Twelfth Night Secrets
Jane Feather has been writing romances for what seems like forever; I remember reading her early in my romance reading life, before AAR existed. Though I vaguely remember some of those V books being good back in the day, the two books I’ve read in the last decade have both been underwhelming.
On paper, Feather’s books usually sound like my cup of tea, which is why I picked up Twelfth Night Secrets. It takes place during a Christmas houseparty – and to paraphrase Edward Cullen of Twilight fame, that’s exactly my kind of heroin. The heroine is fairly young, never married, and still grieving the loss of her older brother in a recent spy mission. Lady Harriet Devere has two younger siblings to care for and a Christmas house party to pull off at her grandfather’s home. She’s also been instructed – by the war ministry – to gather information on Julius Forsythe, Earl of Marbury. The ministry believes that he could potentially be a double agent working for the French. He was also a close friend of her brother, whom her grandfather has invited to the party.
The book is written in a semi-awkward fashion in that the author doesn’t seem to want the reader to know (initially anyway) that Julius is innocent. Now, this is just plain silly. He’s the hero of a romance novel. Is there a romance novel where a British heroine ends up with a real, honest to goodness French spy? I doubt it. Anyway, Julius spends a good deal of the book in secret activities that are not explained to the reader. Well, we know he’s sending carrier pigeons from Oxford with messages, and marking trees for secret rendezvous, but we don’t really know what side he’s on.
While Julius is spending quality secret activity time, Harriet has her own pursuits. She spends a lot of time discussing Christmas preparations with the servants (really, way more time than you would think.) This window into below stairs is kind of like Downton Abbey, but without any of the intrigue that makes Downton Abbey interesting. Harriet also awkwardly sets about trying to prove Julius’s innocence. or maybe guilt. She’s not really sure, but her efforts are ham-handed by any standard. Her fishing conversations where she tries to get Julius to talk about divided loyalties and how deep his friendship with her brother Nick really was are almost painful to read.
Meanwhile, Harriet also spends time taking care of her younger siblings, and Julius tries to help with that,l occasionally stepping in in ways that remind Harriet of Nick
You know what Harriet and Julius don’t spend much time doing? Falling in love. They also don’t spend a whole lot of time even thinking about falling in love. I think Feather forgot she was writing a romance novel and that they were supposed to do that. Really they are just too busy sending carrier pigeons, searching rooms, getting ready for Christmas, and having awkward conversations about loyalty that do absolutely nothing to increase the nonexistent sexual tension.
Because the sexual tension is nonexistent, I found myself completely taken by surprise when Julius and Harriet had sex. As she was saying, “I want this,” I was thinking, “Are you sure? I didn’t know you even liked each other. Also you still think he might be a French spy.” Oh yeah, and I’m not a huge fan of heroines in historical romances who hop into bed without thinking about the consequences at all. There’s not any sort of lead up to this; no heated scene interrupted by others, no thought (at least on Harriet’s part) of how sleeping with Julius seems like a damn fine idea or anything like that. One second she’s following him outside and observing his rendezvous with some French guy, and the next they are sleeping together and she wants this.
I should add that the spy plot is resolved in a way that makes little sense. Harriet’s grandfather ends up knowing what is going on the whole time, which makes one wonder why he didn’t let her – or the War Office – in on that. But at that point I am not sure I cared.
Though I had several nitpicks with Twelfth Night Secrets, it isn’t quite as bad as I am making it sound. I enjoyed some of the Christmas activities, and I didn’t dislike either Harriet or Julius – I just didn’t quite buy their romance, probably because I’m still not sure there was one. I think I might be done with Jane Feather, though. If she can’t sell me on a Christmas house party, hers books probably just aren’t for me.