The Spy Wore Silk
Andrea Pickens, a name well-known to Traditional Regency lovers, begins a new historical series, Merlin’s Maidens, about young women trained to be spies. While I have always enjoy Pickens’ writing, The Spy Wore Silk seemed oddly dispassionate.
Mrs. Merlin’s Academy for Select Young Ladies is really a school for spies whose students are street urchins taken in and raised at the school. Those who do not possess the “right stuff” are trained as domestics and found positions. But a select few receive further training in espionage, assassination – and seduction.
Siena is chosen to find a traitor who has been passing secrets in the pages of rare books. She is set up as the “Black Dove,” London’s newest and flashiest courtesan and invades a meeting of The Gilded Page Club to declare that one of the six members will be chosen as her new protector. It is believed that one the club’s members is the traitor, for some missing documents were found inside the club’s copy of Paradise Lost. The men are intrigued – especially when she removes her cloak to display her naked charms – and all repair to a house party in the country where a rare illuminated manuscript is to be sold at auction and Siena is to hold her final “interviews.”
Julian Henning, the Earl of Kirtland, is a member of the club and the only one suspicious of Siena. He begins his own investigation of her because he believes her to be the agent of a rival collector sent to cause distraction and dissension amongst the bidders. As for Siena, all signs point to Julian as a man who could be the traitor; he recently resigned his army commission in disgrace for having disobeyed a superior’s orders which would have sent his men to a certain – and useless – death. Is his anger enough to cause him to turn traitor, or is he being set up?
Siena is methodical, calculating and ruthless – as she needs to be – and she is very good at what she does, though she fears this pesky attraction to Julian could distract her. Julian is embittered, almost a recluse, but still a warrior at heart looking for a cause, which he may have found in Siena. Both are loners, both are closed off emotionally, and both take a very long time to trust the other. While this behavior seemed realistic for these characters, their closed natures made empathy difficult because I never felt as though I really knew them.
And this is my major complaint about the novel. Siena and Julian move from Point A to Point B to Point C in a logical sequence, doing what they need to do, but I never felt emotionally connected to them – I never felt invested in their loneliness and their isolation. I know it can be done – Eve Dallas, anyone? – but I never felt I knew what they were really feeling until very late in the book.
I will most likely try the next book in the series, for I like Pickens’ writing and have several of her Trads on my Keeper Shelves. The school and the glimpses of future heroines piqued my interest, but ultimately, the dispassionate nature of The Spy Wore Silk was a disappointment.