Katherine Sutcliffe’s new Victorian romance, Notorious, has a troubled hero, a feisty heroine, and lots of derring-do on the high seas. It should appeal to those who miss the “old style” of romance discussed this fall at AAR.
Lord Jason Batson is one of the top agents in the British secret service known as Cobra. His father trained him to be a ruthless killer, and Jason has lived up to his heritage – but he couldn’t stand by and watch an officer kill innocent women and children. While Jason sits moldering in prison, his cowardly commanding officer, Harold Dunleavy, orders him to take one more mission. Dunleavy suspects Jason’s old friend Compton Fontaine, who is sympathetic to the plight of the natives in colonial India, of joining forces with rebel leader Nana Sahib to plan a revolt. Dunleavy suggests that Jason get close to Compton’s recently widowed daughter Destiny in order to learn the truth, and kill Compton if necessary. Jason feels that he has no choice but to take the assignment in order to protect his young daughter.
Feisty young Destiny Fontaine Chesterfield is quite put out that her husband rejected her on their wedding night and then committed suicide (for a very predictable reason). But she takes delight in her visits with a handsome stranger who reads her Shakespeare in the rain. When Destiny’s aunt persuades her to break off the relationship before her reputation is further damaged, Destiny decides to experience the joys of physical love just once. But after their frantic coupling, Jason reveals his true reasons for getting close to Destiny. Destiny throws a fit, Jason leaves, and Dunleavy arrives to announce his suspicions of Destiny’s beloved father. Destiny takes off to India to help her father on a ship captained by a mysterious, heavily scarred man. Destiny finds the captain intriguing, but can’t quite forget Jason – maybe because he’s the captain in disguise. Naturally, secrets are revealed in the journey to India. Can Jason conquer his refusal to love? Is Destiny’s father involved in the revolt? And most importantly, will Jason and Destiny survive?
Notorious is a fast-paced and exciting read, complete with characters who aren’t necessarily cleaned up around the edges. Jason is a dark, tortured hero who would love to settle down on his tea plantation and raise babies, but doesn’t see a chance, not while he has a job to be done. His devotion to his motley band of secret agents and his daughter is touching – whatever his flaws, he has a big heart. How much you like Destiny will depend on how you feel about feisty heroines. Destiny is very, very feisty and sometimes does silly things in the name of being headstrong. At times I wished she had more sense and less chutzpah.
Despite the book’s many good qualities, a few details gave me serious pause. While starting the story in the middle of Jason and Destiny’s courtship brings us right into the story, I would have preferred to have seen the two reading poetry in the forest glade. We hear a lot about this but never see it, and I would have believed in their relationship more strongly if I had seen them first falling in love, before their duties get in the way. For a devoted daughter, Destiny seems to spend more time worrying about her sex life than her father’s life being in danger. And finally, I found it hard to believe that while the villains are all colonialists, Jason, Destiny, and Compton all sympathize with the Indians, especially when so much time is spent on the horrific scenes of the Indian revolt and British injustices are only referred to in passing. We’d all like for our heroes and heroines to believe in equality for all, but in this case, the sympathies seemed to come from convenience rather than conviction. (A warning for the squeamish: There’s a fair amount of gore and a high body count.)
Despite my reservations, a lot of people are going to enjoy Notorious. If you’re looking for an unusual setting, lots of swashbuckling, and some moral gray areas, this would make a fine choice.