I’m always up for a book about someone being forced to go undercover for one reason or another, and if the book in question happens to be a historical novel, I consider that icing on the cake. So, when I read the blurb for Mistress Spy by Pamela Mingle, I was quite eager to give it a try.
Madeleine Vernon wants desperately to avenge her brother’s death. The fact that he died while taking part in a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth seems inconsequential to her; she only cares about finding a way to get even with those she holds responsible, and so she joins a group of people who are determined to see Mary Queen of Scots on England’s throne. Unfortunately for Madeleine, things don’t go nearly as smoothly as those in charge led her to believe they will, and she finds herself captured by Queen Elizabeth’s guards.
Nicholas Ryder has spent the past several years working for his father in the service of the Queen. He’s nearly ready to branch out on his own, but his father has one last mission for him to complete before he can sever ties with those tasked with keeping their monarch safe. It seems not all the conspirators were caught, and Nicholas needs to find someone who can ferret them out for him. He and his father are pretty sure they know the identities of those they seek, but they need indisputable proof.
When Nicholas makes Madeleine’s acquaintance, he decides to make a bargain with her. If she agrees to pose as a lady’s companion in a house filled with suspected traitors, his father will arrange for her to be pardoned. If she fails to comply with his wishes, she will be convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Madeleine doesn’t know a thing about gathering information against traitors, but she agrees to try her best to obtain the evidence Nicholas needs. After all, she doesn’t have much of a choice.
As time passes and Madeleine is drawn ever deeper into a web of deceit and betrayal, she begins to develop feelings for Nicholas, feelings with the power to jeopardize the entire mission if they aren’t kept under control. For his part, Nicholas has been attracted to Madeleine since he first laid eyes on her, and he is determined to keep her safe at all costs, even if it ruins the plans his father has so painstakingly put in place to capture the traitors. Will Nicholas and Madeleine achieve their HEA in the face of such insurmountable odds?
I found Mistress Spy to be an enjoyable, if rather implausible read. I found it hard to believe that Nicholas and his father would trust such an important mission to a woman with no knowledge of subterfuge. Still, the reasons Ms. Mingle gives for Nicholas’ choice were convincing enough for me to set aside my disbelief and go with the flow of the story.
I liked Madeleine quite a bit. She’s smart and spunky, without seeming overly modern for the time in which the story is set. She’s well aware of the limitations being a woman places on her, and while she chafes at those bonds, she rarely acts in a manner that feels inappropriate. It’s obvious she cared deeply for her brother, and I applaud her loyalty, even if it was a little misplaced at times.
Nicholas wasn’t quite as easy for me to like. I wanted him to stand up to his father on more than a few occasions, but he seemed incapable of doing this for most of the book. He complained about the things his father was making him do, but he couldn’t bring himself to actually refuse. Once he acknowledged his feelings for Madeleine, he did a little better, but by then it was a little late for my liking. He was also quite heavy-handed in his dealings with Madeleine, but I suppose that’s the way many men treated women back then.
The romance between Nicholas and Madeleine is quite believable. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked them together given the fact that Madeleine was so completely under Nicholas’ control, but Ms. Mingle does a wonderful job showing readers how their feelings developed over the course of the novel and I soon found myself cheering them on with great gusto. Granted, I would have liked to see Nicholas fight for Madeleine a bit more than he actually does, especially in the second half of the book, but I did understand why this was difficult for him to actually do.
While the book didn’t completely blow me away, I found it to be a quick and enjoyable read. The romance and the intrigue are well-balanced, and I was pretty invested in the characters. If you’re looking for a short book that doesn’t require a ton of deep thought to get through, you could do far worse than Mistress Spy.