From London With Love
This third book in Diana Quincy’s Rebellious Brides series is an enjoyable read featuring a central couple who have known each other for years and were actually supposed to marry five years earlier – until the groom cried off on the morning of the wedding for reasons he never discussed with his betrothed. I enjoy a good second-chance romance, and this one is carried off fairly well, but I am getting just a bit tired of the hero who won’t risk his heart because “a nasty woman betrayed me/used me/broke my heart so I can never love again”. I realise that there are a plethora of such heroes in historical romances, but some of their reasons are more compelling than others, and I wasn’t completely convinced by those attributed to our hero, Hamilton Sparrow (yep – you read that right) and there were times I really wanted to tell him to just man up and get over it already.
Five years since the first time she was supposed to walk down the aisle, Emilia St. George is about to attempt the trip again, this time in order to marry Mr Edmund Worsley, the grandson of the Duke of Arthingon. But before she can get as far as taking the first step, her erstwhile bridegroom suddenly reappears, informs her that her life may be in danger and insists that she leaves with him immediately. Once Emilia has stopped laughing, she refuses in no uncertain terms, and Sparrow, a man who is by no means as puny as his namesake, is left with no alternative than to bodily haul her out of the church and into his waiting carriage.
When they are attacked by a man Sparrow knows to be a highly-paid assassin, Emilia starts to take the possibility of a threat to her life seriously – and to wonder who could be trying to kill her. She’s her father’s only child and heir to his immense fortune, but her fiancé does not want for money, and besides, if she were to die before their wedding he’d get nothing, so he doesn’t have a motive. But if something should happen to her, her father’s heir would be her cousin, Dominick Ware, a man with a shady past, a tendency to disappear, and who, for reasons we don’t learn in this book, is suspected of killing his own parents. It doesn’t help that when Sparrow was attacked by the assassin, Emilia bashed the man’s head in with a rock, so they’re unable to interrogate him due to the fact that he’s unconscious and probably near death. Sparrow and Emilia agree that Ware needs to be found and questioned – but first, they must return to Emilia’s home to lay the whole matter before her father and arrange for Emilia’s protection, so leaving a man with important information and a potentially fatal head wound in the care of trusted servants, the couple heads back to town.
Emilia is well aware that she is marrying Worsley for reasons other than love. Her dearest wish is to travel – first to Paris, then Italy and perhaps Greece – and seeing that her husband-to-be is a diplomat, she is looking forward to visting many different places to study their art and culture. She’s a highly skilled artist and her dearest wish is to complete the copy of a painting she had worked on with her beloved grandfather, but which was left unfinished at his death. (That isn’t to say she’s a forger – art students frequently copy the masters in order to gain an understanding of the techniques employed so that they can use them to develop their own skill). When one particular painting (called Portrait of a Youth in Profile) goes missing – and then turns up in the collection of the notorious reprobate (and friend of Sparrow’s) the Duke of Sunderford – there’s yet another layer of intrigue added to the mix, as it seems that Emilia and Sparrow have not only to discover who is out harm her, but also to find out who could have gained access to her studio and then passed off her copy of the Portrait as an original Italian masterwork.
The identity of the villain isn’t too difficult to guess, so the story is as much a ‘whydunnit’ as it is a ‘whodunnit’, and there’s plenty of action and interesting revelations to keep things trundling nicely along. The relationship between Emilia and Sparrow is well-realised; the sparks fly from the outset, and the author allows them time to get to know each other again for the people they really are. The problem is that they are both characters I’ve read hundreds of times before; Emilia is ashamed of her vibrant red hair (afraid it makes her look like a whore), thinks she’s too plump (which of course, she’s not, she’s built like a goddess), and believes that because men don’t want wives with minds of their own, she must simper around her fiancé and defer to his obviously more informed opinions, whereas the real her is vibrant, clever and passionate. I did, however, like that Emilia felt able to be herself with Sparrow because, not having anything to lose or prove, she didn’t have to pretend to be something she wasn’t; and that Sparrow came to see and fully appreciate her for the woman she really is and to see what he’d lost by not marrying her when he had the chance.
But in terms of the characterisation, Sparrow is similarly stereotypical. He’s knee-weakeningly gorgeous (of course) but a woman done him wrong so he has sworn off love and just sleeps around instead. He’s also recently inherited an impoverished title, so has resigned from the job he loves – as a Home Office agent – in order take up the reins of his crumbling estates and see if there’s any way he can possibly hold back the tide of debt about to engulf him. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the evil woman who broke his heart was a spy who leaked valuable information to the French which caused the capture, torture and deaths of a number of his men. Sparrow is thus guilt-ridden as well as debt-ridden, so even if he did have a heart to give to Emilia, he would still not be worthy of her.
To sum up, From London With Love is fast-moving and entertaining romp, and I certainly didn’t dislike it. But it relies on too many conveniences and contrivances for the plot to work, and I got particularly stuck on the fact that the paid assassin Sparrow spots at the beginning is so expediently incapacitated, forcing Sparrow and Emilia to solve the mystery on their own. I also couldn’t get past the fact that SHE BASHED HIS HEAD IN WITH A ROCK – yet they expect him to be able to spill the beans when he recovers. The ending falls into the “how convenient” category, too, with the baddie abducting Emilia when Sparrow is conveniently away from London (interrogating rock-guy who has made an amazing recovery), yet he somehow miraculously manages to get to the destination in time to Save The Day.
Diana Quincy is a good storyteller and can certainly create strong, attractive characters, but From London With Love is nothing new and the author doesn’t manage to transcend the tropes. I’ll keep an eye out for her future books and will probably read some of them, but she hasn’t yet convinced me to make her a place on my auto-read list.