Passion and Pleasure in London features a Victorian female Robin Hood whose Merry Men give the new (but good) Sheriff of Nottingham a run for his money, while the evil King John hovers threateningly over all. However, we spend next to no time in London. Just saying.
Since Winter Ashburn's father died, her uncle Baron Richly (King John) has swindled, lied and cheated his way into being the most powerful man in the district, abusing his tenants - and Winter - along the way. The town is barely scraping by and its people are on the verge of starvation. Winter (Robin Hood) and her fellow townspeople (the Merry Men) have turned to thievery to survive, though they only target her nasty uncle's wealthy London dandy friends. Some of the men attack a stranger on his way out of town and leave him for dead. He is taken to a nearby cottage and Winter helps to care for him as he heals.
The stranger turns out to be Rory Jameson (the Sheriff of Nottingham) who is on his way to visit his dying grandfather, the Marquess of Granbury. Rory is his heir, though they have been estranged Rory's entire life for his father ran off and married a gypsy woman. Once Rory recovers from his wounds and gets to his grandfather's, he finds that there is more trouble in the neighborhood than simple thieves - someone is obviously trying to kill him and the nasty baron has all but beggared his grandfather's estate. But Rory has spent all his adult life as a super spy and is just the right man to straighten everything out - especially that intriguing Winter.
Winter was once the belle of the ton but now slaves away trying to keep her mother and brother safe and whole. The tragedy surrounding her father's death and her treatment at her uncle's hands makes her a wary and tormented figure. Her attraction to Rory battles with her need to keep her role as a leader in the town's rebellion a secret - and to protect her brother, who played a small but unwitting part in Rory's attack. I thought the relationship between Winter and Rory was well done, and though I kept mentally urging them to trust each other, I could well understand why it was difficult.
Rory is a man used to not trusting anyone, a feeling that is reinforced by the secrets slowly revealed by his grandfather and his superiors in London. But Winter forces him to see himself and his despised future title in a different light, and he must trust the townspeople - and get them to trust him in return - if he is to turn things around. It's an intriguing transformation on his part.
What didn't work so well for me was the ending, which was a bit over the top and melodramatic. And, at times, Melody Thomas is almost too subtle in her narrative. I'm one of those readers who hate to be spoon-fed plot lines and emotions, but there were times where I felt that large chunks of writing had been removed during the editing process, leaving some holes that were not filled in in other places.
But, on the whole, I liked the relationship and the twist on the familiar Robin Hood story. While there were some problems, Passion and Pleasure in London remains a good read.
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