Do you remember when every Regency historical had to have a spy, adorable urchins or both? Published in 1996, this novel predates the years where readers could find a spy skulking in every ballroom and it does avoid many of the clichés in which spy romances of the early 2000s abound. I wasn’t sure whether to expect a romp or high adventure and as it turns out, I got neither. There is some adventure to be had in this novel, but it’s a more deeply emotional love story of the sort I lapped up as a high school and college student in the 90s.
Set during Napoleon’s temporary exile to Elba, the story opens as Ian MacVane rescues a young woman from a mysterious warehouse fire. The stunned woman remembers nothing about herself or her past, and the only clue to her identity is a locket around her neck bearing the name “Miranda.” In the confusion of the fire, Miranda falls into the hands of the night watch and since she cannot identify herself, she ends up in Bedlam.
Ian eventually finds Miranda and is able to get her out of the asylum by proclaiming himself to be her fiancé. Convinced Miranda is in danger, Ian decides to marry her. Along the way, another man claiming to be Miranda’s fiancé appears -and of course intrigue ensues.
The intrigue in this story definitely captured my attention. The spy plot is well constructed, and the historical details woven into the story made the plot and the characters’ motives feel very believable. Ian’s past has made him something of an outsider and one can easily see why he would have fallen in with the company he has. The mystery of Miranda’s past and how that fit into the treachery swirling around her kept me hooked as well.
The romance is good, though a little less solid than the spy plot. Miranda suffers from amnesia, so for a large portion of the book, she is at least somewhat dependent on those around her. She is cared for first by Ian and then pursued by her other supposed fiancé, Lucas Chesney, and because of her condition, their interactions sometimes tend to tell readers more about the men than they do about Miranda. This made it a little harder to get drawn into the romance.
On a more positive note, while I don’t usually like love triangles, the one featured in Miranda was unusually effective. While most will likely figure it out early on, readers are kept guessing to a certain extent as to which man will be Miranda’s hero. Even better, neither contender ends up being eeevil; they both have their likable moments.
While the first half or two-thirds of the book is definitely stronger than the latter portion, I did enjoy this novel overall. Readers sensitive to these issues will want to be aware that there are several mentions of sexual assault in this book, but the violence is primarily offscreen, so to speak. While not this author’s strongest book, it’s still quite entertaining. It made me wish that Wiggs still wrote historical novels, and also made me nostalgic for more of those angsty, emotional 90s historicals.