The Gentleman's Daughter
Historical mystery with a strong side of romance is my catnip so I was happy to pick up The Gentleman’s Daughter by Bianca Schwarz. It’s a well-written, if somewhat slow, dark mystery with an emphasis on romance. This is book two in the series, The Gentleman Spy Mysteries, and I had no trouble catching up – in fact I’m glad I started with book two, as I’ll explain later.
Sir Henry March is a secret agent for the Crown investigating a mysterious club whose aristocratic members engage in rather dark sexual behavior (think Elizabeth Hoyt’s later Maiden Lane books). Henry is also desperate to marry a high-born, respectable woman to help him launch his illegitimate daughter Emily into society. He thought he’d found one during the London season but when he overhears his would-be-bride disparaging his daughter, he leaves London and heads to Brighton to follow a lead regarding the secret society.
Isabella Chancellor, daughter of a baron, is also visiting Brighton. Her mother is anxious to get Isabella married off and away from her passion for painting. Henry and Isabella strike up an easy friendship and Henry quickly realizes that Isabella is perfect for him and Emily. Isabella, on the other hand, is attracted to Henry and his sweet, gentlemanly ways, but has no intention of marrying. An earlier experience of sexual assault has left her somewhat afraid of men and convinced a normal, sexual relationship is impossible for her. When her world collides with Henry’s investigation of the mysterious club, Isabella and Henry must join forces to save themselves and Emily from the evil plans the club has for them.
Both Isabella and Henry are likeable characters. Isabella’s struggle with her own sexuality is very well done and I appreciated how gentle and aware Henry was with her. Their courtship is engaging and provides most of the action of the story. Henry has quite the reputation as a rogue, and before he meets Isabella we are treated to a warm scene featuring Henry and a barmaid. We are also made aware of Henry’s previous paramour, Eliza, with whom he parted ways when he decided he needed to marry a respectable woman. It’s clear that the decision was mutual but Henry and Eliza’s romance was front and center of book one and I couldn’t help but wonder if that would have tainted my enjoyment of book two. And then I wondered if the HEA in book two was really just a HFN. Will Isabella be part of book three (I hope so!) or will each book have a new love interest for Henry? The snippet of book three at the end of The Gentleman’s Daughter has a different hero (one of Henry’s friends) so I am not sure!
The supporting cast of The Gentleman’s Daughter is excellent with helpful grandmothers, dismissive aunts, pushy mothers, and supportive friends. The scenes are well described and easy to picture – a delightful sketch of sea-bathing on the Brighton shore, a tour through a haunted abbey, a moonlit night overlooking the ocean. These parts of the story were easy to get lost in and enjoy the romance.
Readers should be aware, however, that the scenes involving the secret society members are dark;I’m sure I would have enjoyed this story more if Henry had been investigating a smuggling ring or a gang of highwaymen. My ability to get lost in the romance was hampered by my feelings of revulsion about the activities of the club. I was also confused by the society’s setup and how the ending of the book impacted them. And every time I see these deranged sex clubs in stories I have to wonder – did these clubs really exist in Regency England or are writers just trying to make the time period more titillating than it really was?
In the end, The Gentleman’s Daughter is a solid story with a fine romance. The mystery part of the tale was not my cup-of-tea but it’s a book I can still recommend.
Note: – this book includes talk of past rape, rough sex games, role-playing rape.