Danger Wears White
One of the things I’ve been enjoying about Lynne Connolly’s Emperors of London series is the historical and political background against which she has set her stories. Besides not being a commonly used setting for historical romances, 1750s London is a hotbed of intrigue and political rivalry, and she is making good use of the unrest and uncertainty that was present at the time. Danger Wears White is the third in the series which features a large and powerful family loyal to the Hanoverian king and their sworn enemies, the Dankworths, who are one of a number of influential families who remain loyal to the Jacobite cause, despite its overwhelming defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1745.
The eponymous “Emperors” are so named because of their unusual first names; we’ve already met Alexander, Maximillian, Poppea and the inscrutable Julius, Earl of Winterton, who is the head of the family. The hero of this story is Antonius Beaumont, formerly a Major in the army, and at the beginning of the book he has travelled to Lancashire in search of some potentially inflammatory documents in an attempt to prevent their falling into the wrong hands. On his way, Tony is attacked and shot, but just about manages to make his way to a tumble-down hut before he passes out.
He is discovered there by Imogen Thane, owner of the land and daughter of the former Earl of Hollinhead, a prominent Jacobite whose title was ignominiously stripped from him. Imogen has no sympathy with either the cause or her father, who has all but beggared his family, having spent practically everything in his quest to help restore a Stuart monarch to the English throne, and caring so little for his wife and daughter that he has abandoned them to live in Italy at the Pretender’s court.
Imogen arranges to have the shabbily dressed, badly injured man she believes to be a common soldier conveyed back to her home and sees that he is suitably – and secretly – taken care of. Her situation is complicated further by the fact that an important visitor has just arrived, Lord William Dankworth, son of the Duke of Northwich, also a prominent adherent of the Jacobite cause. Imogen can’t help but be flattered by the attentions of the handsome nobleman at first, but soon realises that there is something about Dankworth that makes her uncomfortable. His presence makes it very difficult for Imogen to visit Tony, and she is almost distraught when she learns that, in her absence, his wound became seriously infected and his life was endangered. Fortunately, the servant assigned to care for Tony was able to help him, but Imogen feels guilty at not being able to be with him.
It’s at around this point that I started to have problems with the story, because with Tony having just recovered from a bullet wound and severe infection, he and Imogen fall into bed. I always have a problem with the “I have a serious head/leg/arm wound but my desire to shag you is so strong that it will heal my pain” scenario, but here that is compounded by the fact that Tony and Imogen have seen each other only a handful of times and don’t really know each other.
Following a couple more sessions of sexual healing, however, the couple is discovered, and if not for the timely intervention of Tony’s cousin Julius, Earl of Winterton, he could have ended up in the hands of their enemies, the Dankworths, and Imogen’s reputation could have been ruined. The action then shifts to London, as Julius has arranged for Imogen to be engaged as a waiting woman for Princess Amelia, one of King George’s daughters. Imogen is worried about Tony, having heard nothing from him since they parted in Lancashire, and is astonished to see him at a society event some weeks later, fully recovered, devastatingly handsome and surprisingly well-dressed. She is shocked and angry, believing he had lied to her and seduced her only to ensure that she would comply with Julius’ request that he be allowed to return to her home to search for the documents Tony had been trying to secure, documents which, if they fall into Jacobite hands, could see Imogen used as an unwitting pawn in a new rebellion against the Hanoverian monarchy.
I’ve already said that the historical background in this book, indeed the whole series, is enjoyable and strongly written, and the same is true of the mystery element of the story; but the book is let down by the romance, which, to be honest, isn’t a romance as much as it is a series of sex scenes that seem to me to exist solely to pad out what is already a fairly light-on-page-count novel. There is no real emotional connection between the protagonists, and no relationship development; they fall in love almost on sight, and then there is too much artificial conflict towards the end, with Imogen holding on to her belief that she has been used for longer than is necessary.
I did like her, though, as most of the time she’s intelligent, courageous and more than able to stand up for herself.
This has become a series I’m reading more because I enjoy the historical detail and plots than I’m reading for the romances, and because I’m intrigued by the glimpses the author is giving us into the character of the enigmatic Julius, who I hope will get his own book at some point. Ms Connolly writes well and has a secure grasp of the history of the period; I just wish there was a bit more actual romance going on.