Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-91687-4
Historical Romance, 2016
Sari Trevor has to rob people to support her brother who is studying at some posh school. You see, their father messed up, and it is up to Sari to save everyone… while making her family friend pay for her and her brother in the meantime. Well, at long as that guy is willing, I suppose. As you can imagine, when the story opens the whole thing is bungled up. Their intended mark, Michael D’Alency Alistair – the Earl of Crayle, the dude mentioned in the title – is impressed by the fact that Sari can shoot her gun, however, that he offers a job that pays twenty pounds a month. No, he doesn’t want her to sell herself on the docks, he will take her in and train her to be a spy. Michael, you see, is a retired ex-military dude who was asked by Wellington himself to be a major player in the spy department, to prevent something like the war with Napoleon from ever happening again. And in Sari, Michael sees a potential recruit.
Sari soon turns out to be a natural, doing everything perfectly. Oh, isn’t this exciting? Do you think they will infiltrate the headquarters of those secret French ninja killers and do some kung-fu on those bastards? Or maybe they can head over to America and beat those upstarts into agreeing that English supremacy is the boss of everything?
Lord Crayle’s Secret World, unfortunately, goes straight down the toilet instead. Sari insists on accompanying Michael on his secret agent thing, despite having no experience, only to get manhandled and nearly raped – forcing Michael to ditch is target to save Sari instead. Our heroine only then tells herself that she’s been an idiot, and it’s all downhill from there. Michael realizes that he can’t put Sari in danger – despite the fact that he’s paying her to train to do dangerous things – so he decides to make her an agent in the ballrooms instead, only to later accuse her of being a harlot when she seems to be too chummy with other men. Again, he’s the one who pushes her into that kind of situation, and now he is angry with her? Michael is an emotional, irrational moron, and simply one of the worst spies ever, although don’t tell the author that because I think she has no idea.
Sari is a horrible spy too. She’s overwrought and emotional, for one, crying when she hears Michael’s sad past and spending the bulk of the story pining after Michael even as he repeatedly tries to drive her away. This is not a secret agent or espionage story, people, as these two people way too much time playing the martyr, rushing into arguments and misassumptions that make them both look like idiots, and and generally doing anything other than spy stuff. Therefore, I have no idea why the author started the story the way she did, as by the last few chapters, she’s not even trying to pretend that this is anything but a soap opera.
Michael turning into a jackass determined to hurt Sari for her own good comes up abruptly, and that is the biggest problem here – if the author had introduced this aspect more gradually, the hero may seem less like an asshole who led Sari on, got what he wanted from her, and then turned on her. Even then, I never like stories where people behave cruelly to the other person in a misguided effort to be a martyr, so I doubt I’d ever like Michael or his girlfriend. The author is a debut author who writes like a debut author, let’s just say, with often not enough showing, so her characters can swing from one mood to another erratically, and hence, all this martyr drama feels like a contrived effort to pad the story with prolonged conflicts.
But seriously, why write a spy story only to let the two players act like overemotional, melodramatic idiots, hence making them the worst spies ever in the process? It’s like reading about supposedly intelligent surgeons who keep removing the wrong body parts from their patients – no wonder how beautiful their love story can be, they are still idiots at the end of the day.