To Wed a Scandalous Spy
Celeste Bradley begins a new series on The Royal Four, the lordly overseers of the English spies from her previous series The Liar’s Club. This new book leans heavily on the previous series for recurring characters and storylines, and though I have read three of the four books in the earlier series, I still felt at times as if I needed a road map to get through To Wed a Scandalous Spy.
Nathaniel Stonewall, the Earl of Reardon, is reviled throughout England as “Lord Treason.” He infiltrated a spy ring helping to break it up, and though he was never formally charged with treason, he has allowed himself to be seen as a conspirator. He agrees with the Prime Minister that this treasonous reputation is a great cover for Nathaniel’s professional espionage activities, though it difficult to live with on a personal level. He is ostracized by society and his family and lives a very lonely life, supported only by the knowledge that he has Done The Right Thing. He is in the north and on the trail of a conspirator who got away when he is felled by slingshot wielded by our heroine.
Willa Trent is the orphan of well-born, naturalist parents, who settled in a remote village for their work. She has been raised by her mother’s ladies’ maid and the village in general, who adore her, though they fear her. Willa is a klutz and a jinx. Any young man who attempts to woo her winds up the victim of a freak accident. When she knocks out Nathaniel while attempting to spring a poaching trap, they wind up spending the night together under a hedgerow, as he is too large for her to move. The villagers are ecstatic that Nathaniel managed to live through the night and the pair are quickly hustled into a wedding and sent off with the town’s blessings.
Nathaniel knows the wedding isn’t legal, but takes Willa to London planning to make it so and then setting her up in her own home. Nathaniel never intended to marry, as he doesn’t wish to burden a wife or children with the taint of his disgrace. But he is having a difficult time remaining indifferent to Willa.
Willa reminded me of a throwback to an old Amanda Quick-type heroine: the Intelligent Ditz. She is well-read, a font of arcane knowledge and very chatty. She has a quirky view on life, and is blindly sure of Nathaniel’s innocence and of her love for him. It is a fine line between Adorably Ditzy and Too Stupid To Live, and for the most part, Bradley does a fine job of keeping Willa on the Adorable side of that line.
Nathaniel is less well drawn and I felt I didn’t have a real handle on who he was until the last half of the book when they arrive in London and he has to deal with his awful family. Then, his pain and isolation are palpable, and despite his best intentions, he turns to Willa’s unconditional support for solace and comfort.
I have read a lot of Regency Spy books, and for the most part have enjoyed them, but I will confess to reaching my tolerance limit for silly code names. This book is chock-full of them: The Liars, The Royal Four, The Old Man, The Knights of Fleur, The Chimera, The Lion, The Cobra, The Fox, The Falcon, and The Duck-billed Platypus. (Ok, so I made up that last one.) It really is overkill and heavy going, especially early in the book when all the players are being set up. It’s just so silly. Enough, already.
Another annoyance was the rampant Head Hopping throughout the book. I’m usually pretty oblivious to this, so you know that if it bothered me, that it was very noticeable, with rapid Point of View shifts occurring often from paragraph to paragraph.
But I do give a qualified recommendation to this book for its refreshing heroine, luscious love scenes (including, I think I should mention, one where the heroine “swallows”) and the very fun dialogue between Nathaniel and Willa.