This story reads like a kind of 19th century episode of Hustle (that’s Leverage to those of you on the other side of the pond!). Nemesis Unlimited is an underground organization operating in the late Victorian era, which fights injustice and rights wrongs using whatever means necessary. In this, the second book in the series, an anonymous letter has requested help on behalf of the employees of a Cornish mining company who are being cheated of their pay and being forced to work under terrible conditions. I found the story quite gripping and there was a grittiness to the writing that isn’t commonly found in historical romances; it was also a nice change to have a story set outside of London with a heroine who has to work for her living and a hero who, while being the younger son of a wealthy family, doesn’t take his privileged life for granted.
A veteran of Islandwana and Rourke’s Drift, Simon Addison-Shawe is not your common or garden scion of a noble house. He’s the black sheep of the family and has a none-too-cordial relationship with his father, who was outraged when Simon opted to join the army as an enlisted man rather than purchasing a commission.
Returned from the army and at a loss as to what to do with his life, Simon was determined not to spend his days in the gentlemen’s clubs frequented by the rich and idle, and when, together with a couple of friends, he was presented with the opportunity to expose a corrupt landlord, he grabbed it with both hands and Nemesis was born. Nemesis achieves its objectives by sleight of hand and confidence tricks rather than by brute force – although brute force is never completely ruled out as an option.
In Dangerous Seduction Simon – who usually doesn’t take on jobs outside of London – travels to Cornwall to investigate the goings on at Wheal Prosperity near the village of Trewyn. He goes undercover as a mechanic; he may be a gentleman, but he’s not above getting his hands dirty in a good cause, and it doesn’t take him long to discover that this is a very good cause indeed. The workers are all but held prisoner by the greedy mine-owners; instead of paying them in cash, the workforce is paid with “chit”, or tokens, which they can spend only at the company store. They’re more or less indentured servants – nobody can leave as nobody has any actual money, and any new workers that come to Trewyn are soon trapped in the same situation.
Simon already has the bare bones of a plan in mind – but he can’t execute it alone. He quickly realizes that Alyce Carr, one of the bal-maidens (these were usually female workers whose job it was to smash up the lumps of ore that came up from the mine) is a woman of courage and intelligence and one who is ideally placed to help him to put his scheme into action.
Simon also quickly notices that Alyce, while not petite and curved as per the accepted standard for feminine beauty, is nonetheless a very attractive woman, and one with whom he’d very much like to be on intimate terms. But the members of Nemesis have an unwritten rule about not mixing business with pleasure (even though the protagonists of the previous book did just that!) and so Simon has to push his lustful urgings aside in order to focus on accomplishing the mission.
The story progresses at a fair lick and there’s never a dull moment. Ms Archer has very cleverly constructed the novel in such a way that the reader is plunged immediately into the story – there’s no lengthy introduction or glimpse of Simon’s life prior to his arrival at the mine. It’s true that anyone who has read the previous book (Sweet Revenge) will have met him already, but for someone who hasn’t, this one can be read as a standalone, as all the information the reader needs unfolds naturally in the course of Simon’s association with Alyce.
The author does an excellent job in describing the plight of the miners and their families, and in contrasting it with the lifestyles of plenty enjoyed by the mine’s managers and owners. Simon is an aristocrat by birth, but one who keenly feels the injustices wrought by his class on those less fortunate, and who uses his position in society to help him in his work. As landed gentry, he is able to move easily among the ton and has access to information and gossip which other members of Nemesis do not.
Alyce Carr is not afraid to confront the mine’s managers in an attempt to stand up for the rights of the workers. Unfortunately, however, all her outspoken-ness gets her is a reputation as a troublemaker, but she’s determined not to give up. All she’s known is Trewyn and her work at the mine, and she seems destined to remain a spinster – none of the men there are man enough for her! – and doting aunt to her brother’s children. But even with such narrow prospects, Alyce is intelligent, eager for knowledge and determined to find a way to improve the lot of her family and fellow workers.
Both Simon and Alyce are engaging and likeable characters. Alyce is pragmatic, with a good dose of guts and determination to go alongside it, and Simon is a gorgeous alpha male who doesn’t belittle Alyce’s intelligence, talk down to her or try to wrap her up in cotton wool. He’s protective, yes, but is sensible enough to recognize when his protective instinct is unwarranted or unwise.
As an adventure story, Dangerous Seduction succeeds brilliantly, and on the whole, the romance was strong and well-developed. The deepening ‘professional’ trust between Simon and Alyce is nicely paralleled in the deepening of their feelings for one another, but there was one element to the romance which didn’t really work for me. The sexual tension between the pair simmers from the outset, and the author builds it – and their relationship – beautifully, despite the many obstacles that lay potentially in the path towards their HEA. In fact, one of the things I thought worked really well was the fact that neither was particularly bothered about the huge class divide that lay between them. But what didn’t work for me were the reasons Simon kept giving – both to himself and to Alyce – about why they couldn’t allow anything more than friendship to develop between them, which were basically that he needed to focus on the mission and that after that he’d be going back to London and his next assignment.
I can certainly see why he’d think that his way of life and his job might not be conducive to marriage. But then, having been insistent that they must keep their hands off each other for three-quarters of the book, Simon changes his mind almost out of the blue and the pair share a night of hot sex and unbridled passion. It seems that all Alyce had to do to tip the scales was give him a hand-job before dinner, et voilà!
That niggle apart, however, Dangerous Seduction is a refreshingly unusual historical romance with a clever plot, a dangerously handsome hero, a kick-arse heroine and a really well-drawn cast of secondary characters. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different in the genre, and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.