I would have bought Scoundrel, the second volume in Zoë Archer’s Blades of the Rose series, for the setting alone: Most of its pages are spent on a small sailing boat island-hopping in the Aegean Sea – can you imagine anything more romantic? With lots of adventures magical and otherwise, it’s a ripping good yarn, even if the main characters left me a bit cold.
Bennett Day, adventurer and womanizer, is a member of the Blades of the Rose, a secret society that tries to prevent the nefarious Heirs of Albion from stealing magical items all over the world. The Heirs think they are entitled to use this magic to further Britain’s imperialistic ambitions; the Blades disagree. On the run from some cuckolded husband, Bennett encounters a beautiful and intriguing English lady in a marketplace, but she vanishes before he can deepen the acquaintance. He is more than delighted when he meets her again in a hotel garden where he is to spy on the Heirs, but dismayed when he finds out she is the daughter of one of their honchos, and widow of a man he killed.
London (yes, there is an explanation for that name in the book; it still jarred each time I read it) Harcourt has led an extremely sheltered life so far, first as the daughter of a wealthy businessman, later as the wife and widow of a gentleman who travelled a lot. Her hobby is ancient languages; when her father finds out that she speaks a very old dialect, he drags her off to Greece at a moment’s notice, to read some inscriptions of the island of Delos. Not that London minds: She is looking forward very much to an adventure. She gets more than she bargained for, however, when Bennett Day enters her tent and kidnaps her onto his boat. There she is told what her father and his cronies are really up to, and that a lot will depend on her decision of whom to believe and whom to support.
Bennett and London are nice enough. He is very happy-go-lucky, and albeit a rake, one of those who believably likes women. London starts off rather repressed, but sheds convention like old clothes once she is given the opportunity, and never looks back. All this is charming, and I expected I would like these characters far more than I did in the event. I believe this is because they think about sex too much. No matter what tricky situation they are in, whenever one claps eyes on the other, she considers his “edible backside”, he “every silky inch of her”, and instantly they think about the next time they can have sex, and exchange suggestive remarks. All this while they are busy saving the world as we know it, and while London at least must deal with some traumatic disclosures about her nearest and dearest. It just got too much. That said, the scene when they actually confess their feelings for each others is one of the sweetest I have read in a long time. Go figure.
Once I mostly ignored Bennett and London’s sex drives, I enjoyed the book at lot. There are lovely sunsets, islands with wondrous inhabitants, allegorical places strongly influenced by the Odyssey, and lots of narrow escapes. When Bennett and London actually have sex, the scenes are suitably hot. I also liked the secondary couple on the boat, although they were a bit farcical.
Zoë Archer is at her best when she writes about adventures, treasures and wild hunts. The next two volumes of this series will be about a grieving widow turned frontierswoman in Canada, and about a black British inventor. You can bet I will read them. As for Scoundrel, it was pleasant enough to pass a few hours and smile at the author’s inventiveness.