There are books which, even though they haven’t anything majorly wrong or annoying about them, just don’t capture my interest. I open such a book, read a few pages, fall asleep over them, put it aside for a week, a month, and don’t miss a thing. Books like these are extremely hard to review, because as I received an ARC, naturally I feel duty-bound to read the book and get the review done. But with a book that just doesn’t interest me the reading drags. And drags. With Outrageously Yours this is all the more surprising as the novel contains some elements that I actually like.
The book is the second of four in Her Majesty’s Secret Servants, a series about four sisters who used to be playmates to Queen Victoria when she was a child, and who have vowed to assist her whenever she is in need of special agents. Ivy, the second sister, is the mathematician and naturalist. When a supposedly magnetic and very powerful stone that was given to Victoria by her cousin and secret fiancé Albert is stolen, she asks Ivy to retrieve it by infiltrating the household of Simon de Burgh, Marquess of Harrow, a scientist as brilliant as he is eccentric, and whose sister has stolen the stone. In order to do so, Ivy must don male clothing, cut off her hair, and apply for the position of Harrow’s assistant. Ivy quickly impresses Harrow with her intellegence and daring, and wins the position.
Simon does not take long to recognize Ivy as a woman. He lets her stay at Harrowood, in spite of some misgivings, because he is delighted to have found such an able assistant at last, and because he is most thoroughly attracted to her. He is a widower, whose wife died in a tragic accident, and he is afraid of ever loving again. He is not a rake, however, and so he thinks at first he and Ivy can keep their relationship platonic if they choose so. Ivy takes some time to trust him – after all, he is closely related to the thief and one of the few men in England who may actually be able to tap into the stone’s powers – but soon she falls head over heels, too.
What I liked about the book were the mad scientist elements. Simon and his colleagues are truly dedicated to what they do and there are some delightful scenes set in his workshop. One of his experiments contains a sci-fi element that felt anachronistic to me, but may not bother others at all.
What I did not like was the development of the relationship after it took off. Simon and Ivy are just so obviously perfect for each other. He is the mad scientist and she the woman whose passion and intellect matches his. They work perfectly as a team and they think alike. They should have hied off for a special licence within days – and yet they vacillate. They emote. They go through the whole dance of “I can’t marry again because my first wife died and I can’t bear it, even though her death had nothing to with me,” and “I want my freedom, I want to be an independent woman scientist” (even though at that period the best – the only – chance a woman had to work as a scientist was as the companion of a forward-thinking father, brother or husband), and “He is only asking for my hand because he feels honor-bound”, the works. Pur-lease.
In addition, Simon gets all possessive and protective of a sudden, endangering Ivy’s disguise several times. I suppose the reader was meant to consider that endearing, but it came across as annoying, mostly because in most of these instances she is not at any real risk.
While all this is going on, Simon looks for this sister and Ivy for the stone, and then a body turns up in a scientist’s lab. The mystery was not very engaging, and the villain too easy to spot for my taste. It was a choice between him and a character who had “future hero” written all over him, and guess how it turned out?
All in all, Outrageously Yours is not a particularly bad book. I just did not find it an interesting book. With that, I can’t particularly recommend it, but if you like Victorians, you might find it more appealing than I did.