Veiled in Blue
This sixth book in Lynne Connolly’s Emperors of London series is one I –and I suspect other readers who have followed the fortunes of the titular emperors thus far – have been waiting for since fairly early on. Julius Vernon, the Earl of Winterton has appeared in all the previous books as a powerful but somewhat distant and enigmatic figure; heir to a dukedom, he is, in effect, the head of his large family when it comes to its many and varied business interests and political dealings. I’ve read the first four books in the series and have enjoyed them to varying degrees (somehow, I missed book five, Dilemma in Yellow Silk), and while it probably helps to have some idea of the background to the series, Veiled in Blue works well as a standalone.
I have to say up front that the romance has been the weakest element in some of the earlier books. These aren’t long novels, and looking back at my other reviews, I see I’ve made similar complaints about insta-lust and relationships not being allowed time to properly develop. However, I found the romance in Veiled in Blue to be much more successful, even though things do move rather quickly. But what has kept me coming back to the series in spite of a couple of disappointing books early on, is twofold: one is the fact that the setting of 1750s England is not a common one for historical romance; and the other is that Ms. Connolly’s overarching plot-thread of the search for the illegitimate children of the Old Pretender (the son of the deposed king, James II) and the political intrigue and tensions that were rife in England makes for an interesting backdrop to the personal stories of each emperor.
The series is set almost forty years after the advent of the Hanoverian monarchy, and there are still factions among the nobility who favour the Jacobite cause and are secretly working to restore the Stuarts to the British throne. It was revealed earlier in the series that there were in existence a number of children born to the Old Pretender, Charles James Stuart (son of James II) and a woman he had legally but secretly married. The legitimacy of these children thus poses a threat to the Young Pretender (also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie), who is attempting to track them down to dispose of them, while another Jacobite faction wants to find them and arrange marriages for them within their families so as to strengthen their own position and, possibly, gain the throne.
One of these children is Eve Merton, who lives quietly with her widowed mother in the village of Appleton in Somerset. Eve is aware of her parentage, but doesn’t see that it should make any difference to her life. She is being courted by the local squire and is resigned to the marriage, having abandoned thoughts of falling in love and seeing it as a way to secure her future and provide for her mother. The arrival of a handsome stranger in the vicinity changes all that however, when he comes upon her trudging home along a deserted lane and insists on escorting her home.
Julius, the Earl of Winterton, is a widower with a six year old daughter and knows it’s time for him to remarry. His mother has a number of suitable ladies in mind and has invited them all to the house-party he is expected to attend. But Julius is not ready to fall in with the duchess’ plans, and decides to take a detour – incognito – to assure himself of the safety of the most recently discovered member of the Stuart family. But the moment Julius sets eyes on Eve, things become much more complicated as he finds himself in the grip of an intense attraction the like of which he’s never felt before.
Julius’ first marriage was a passionate one, but his young wife was impulsive and increasingly unstable. After her death, Julius determined to eschew strong emotions, so he is unnerved by the strength of what he is beginning to feel for Eve. And Eve, who had never expected to feel romantic love or passion is swept off her feet by the charming Mr. Vernon who, in spite of his being a mere man of business, seems well able to support a wife and family.
Their romance develops fairly quickly, but is nicely done nonetheless and the couple gets to spend time together discovering that their affinity goes beyond simple sexual attraction. It’s obvious, however, that there is going to be some fall out to be dealt with as a consequence of the fact that Julius doesn’t make Eve aware of his true identity until after they are married. At first he conceals the truth about himself because he doesn’t want to arouse any suspicions about Eve, but after that, he begins to worry that while she loves Julius Vernon, perhaps she will reject the Earl of Winterton in spite of his immense fortune and powerful position. I rather liked seeing this vulnerable side of Julius who has, until now, seemed completely unflappable and in control at all times, and I enjoyed meeting the man behind the exquisite tailoring and impeccable manners.
Eve’s strength of character, good sense and quiet dignity make her a great match for Julius and her backbone of steel enables her to hold her own when she is finally introduced to the rest of the Vernon family. I appreciated that Ms. Connolly allows Eve and Julius to work through their issues in a mature and realistic manner that shows the true depth of their feelings for each other.
There is more emphasis on the romance in Veiled in Blue than on the machinations of the Jacobites attempting to locate the Stuart children, but I didn’t mind that. In every series there is a character whose story is the most anticipated, and in this case that character is Julius, so it’s right that in his book the focus is on him and the journey towards his HEA. The romance works and the sex scenes (of which there are several) are sensual – but the book falls down near the end, which is very rushed and which sees the inclusion of a final twist that is incredibly anti-climactic and left me somewhat dissatisfied. That has caused me to lower my grade a little, but even so, this is a strong addition to the series, and the best of the bunch when it comes to the romance.