by Andrea Pickens, historical (2007)
Warner, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-61800-7
The Spy Wore Silk is a very problematic story for me. I want to love this one because the heroine can genuinely take care of herself and kick some serious behind effortlessly, but egads, she's also a complete flop as a spy. I suppose that it is a good thing that the heroine is capable of taking care of herself because otherwise, this would be a truly painful story indeed to sit through.
The premise of this book and the rest of the books in the planned series is that we have a bunch of orphaned young ladies who have been plucked from the streets at a very young age to be trained at an academy called Mrs Merlin's Academy for Select Young Ladies to become adept assassins, spies, and seductresses. All for the greater good of England, of course. Don't ask me why this Academy has to have a name instead of being a top secret anonymous facility located in the middle of nowhere. That's just the start of the many, many implausibilities in this story. I haven't mentioned the merlin tattoo that the heroine sports yet, have I? I tell you, why go undercover when you have a pictorial equivalent of "Undercover Agent From This Agency" tattooed on a prominent part of your body? Only in romance novels, I tell you.
Anyway, this one is the story of our heroine who is known as Siena in the Academy. She is an accomplished shot, fencer, rider, actress, and martial artist. She is also drop dead beautiful. Alas, she is also untested when it comes to actual field work. Not that her inexperience matters, since England is currently involved in a Very Dire Problem - someone is using antique books to smuggle confidential information to France - and naturally the only person who can help identify and stop the spy or spies is an inexperienced young woman. That makes sense.
Siena therefore uses the many contacts of the Academy in London to set herself up as the newest and most sensational courtesan to hit London, the Black Dove. Arriving just in time to attend an auction of very rare artworks and books by a reclusive collector, Siena uses the opportunity to get to know the small circle of suspects who will be attending this auction.
Among the suspects is our hero, Julian Henning. The Earl of Kirkland has been a recluse after his insubordination ended his military career. The trial caused a scandal that disillusioned him about society. After all, even if going against his lummox superior ended up saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, every other person seems more interested in treating Kirkland like a pariah. Understandably, Kirkland here doesn't think too well of the Ton ever since his public disgrace.
The best thing about The Spy Wore Silk is, in my opinion, the toe-curling erotic and sensual relationship between Kirkland and the Black Dove. I read erotic romances regularly, but this one has me fanning myself when many of those erotic romances fail to elicit anything from me other than a yawn. That strip-fencing scene, I tell you. Mama mia, indeed. What I love about those two characters is that despite the disparity in their social status, they are playing on equal ground when it comes to their unorthodox courtship. She's not played by him just as he knows that she's up to something. As both try to peel away at each other's secrets, the resulting sexual tension is too hot for words.
Kirkland is also a dreamy hero. He is not into self-pity, which is nice, and he is a capable man. Not prone to jumping to bizarre conclusions, Kirkland instead openly admits to himself that he is attracted to Siena because of her brain and the thrill he gets from playing with fire where she is concerned. He's a tormented good guy who is not a jerk, in other words, and a very nice guy at that. As for Siena, she is one of those very rare heroines that can take care of themselves. And I love how Kirkland understands that and respects her more for it.
But these two characters are not served well by Ms Pickens' handling of the plot. While on the whole she succeeds in generally depicting Siena as a heroine with reasonable intelligence, she also has Siena deciding that Kirkland is a good guy when in truth Siena has little reason to believe this. Siena accepts many of Kirkland's claims at face value when any good spy will want to find more evidence before accepting them as gospel. This is the biggest flaw in the whole "Siena is a great spy" concept that Ms Pickens is trying to sell me. Siena trusts Kirkland way too easily.
Also, there are way too many suspects for Siena to deal with, causing the plot to drag dryly especially in the second half of the story, culminating with a disappointing villain-blabs-all moment. It feels so anticlimatic to have our hero and heroine working so hard to unmask villains who turn out to be cartoon bad guys.
The Spy Wore Silk is, therefore, a story with a great couple stuck in a plot that is handled in a way that doesn't do these characters much justice. It's not a bad read at all, but at the same time, there is one too many "Huh?" moment in the plot to prevent this one from getting a keeper grade, as much as a part of me wants to give it one. What a pity, really. I really, really like Siena and Kirkland.
This book at Amazon.com
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