Berkley Sensation, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-20358-1
Historical Romance, 2005
Sometimes I come across a very well-written and most painless book to read, but at the same time the story has so many things about it that strain my credulity too much. Samantha Saxon’s debut historical romance for Berkley, The Lady Lies, is one such book.
Lady Celeste Rivenhall is half-French and half-English, but the death of her father at the hands of French revolutionaries tips her towards the English side when it comes to the current war against Napoleon Bonaparte. She is today a double agent: she spies for England while pretending that she’s a French spy. It is said that she has seduced many French officers and she is even Napoleon’s mistress. In 1811, she helped Aidan Duhearst, the Earl of Essex, escape when he was captured by the French after a disastrous defeat at Albuera, Spain, but he only knows her as the French spy he met during his captivity.
Cut to later when everyone’s in London and Aidan gets obsessed when he spots Celeste going through the possessions of some of the Ton’s lords under the guise of seduction and flirtation with these lords. He believes that God has spared him so that he can catch this woman and avenge the deaths of his fellow soldiers in Albuera.
Sounds exciting? Unfortunately, the actual story that results is disappointingly muddled. Let me see think about where I should start when it comes to the problems with the story because there are so many things wrong about the story and to list all of them down will force me to create a new website altogether for that very purpose. Ah, I know, how about when Aidan reports that Lady Rivenhall is a spy for the French, he is told to seduce her while she is told to seduce him when she reports that Aidan is hindering her progress? Considering how she is supposed to be in a vital mission and she has to beat the clock to sort out the mission or all will be lost, I really find it implausible that the “spymaster” will tell these two to seduce each other in hopes of matchmaking them. Yes, matchmaking them. No, I wish I’m making things up but alas, I’m not. The very premise of this story is that the spymaster is willing to “matchmake” these two by having them behaving like antagonistic cats in heat, hence the deliberate keeping of Aidan in the dark about Celeste’s true allegiance, when there is a supposedly very important mission hanging in the balance. If you can accept this premise, you’re halfway to enjoying this story. Me, I think Ms Saxon must have spent too many long nights working away at her stories if she cannot see the gaping hole in the plausibility of her story.
Let’s move on to Celeste, the worst spy in the universe and maybe even in the next one as well. The author keeps telling me what a skilled spy Celeste is, and indeed she has to be skilled to have come as far as earning Napoleon’s favors, but as you may have predicted by now, Celeste has never slept with anybody until Aidan. Somehow she manages to avoid moving past second base with all those French officers and nobody suspects that something is amiss in all her four years of being a spy. Yet when it comes to Celeste actually having to do something in this story, she’s always being discovered by Aidan that I start to wonder how this woman manages to avoid being killed on her debut assignment four years ago. Ms Saxon has Celeste coming off like a very talented spy in her descriptions of that woman but when Celeste has to start being a spy, even the English lord she is currently trying to investigate suspects that something is amiss with Celeste when she kisses him. Celeste is an incompetent twit no matter how much Ms Saxon insists otherwise. Yup, the lady lies! Okay, that’s a bad one, my apologies.
And then Celeste just has to be an overemotional nitwit on top of being an incompetent Barbie doll. By the middle of this story she’s completely lost her mind, I tell you, because she starts getting emotional about Aidan thinking her as Napoleon’s whore. Celeste is a spy. Why on earth is she worried about what people think of her if she’s supposedly this patriotic woman concerned about the world? Why be a freaking spy if she gets so sensitive about people not thinking of her in the best light possible? She may as well be a braindead bluestocking chasing after an absentee father for all things she says and does in this story. She’s a spy, but good luck in waiting for her to act like a competent one.
There are many illogical moments in this story, but they are minor compared to the problems I have mentioned above: the illogical keeping of Aidan in the dark about Celeste’s true allegiance and the heroine being a hopelessly overemotional and incompetent mess. These two huge flaws set in motion other illogical moments and developments in the story like a rot from one apple that spreads to the rest of the apples in a barrel. Or two leaks in the ship that keep getting worse and worse until they eventually cause the ship to sink, come to think of it.
Another problem, one not related to the flawed basic premise of the story, is the number of secondary characters that are introduced solely for sequel bait purposes. The author isn’t subtle about her approach because many of the secondary characters don’t have any role to play in the plot. They just… show up. Awkwardly as well to the point that I often have to stop and go back to reread the last few pages because I’d swear this fellow or that fellow shows up in the page out of the blue. The only secondary character I like – and one that is actually useful in the story – will not be getting a sequel, alas. Poor John Elkin, I guess we just aren’t meant to be.
Ultimately, The Lady Lies is so ineptly executed that it is perhaps telling that the villain is the only one that acts like a credible spy. I know, I know, any foolhardy author that writes about real female spies will probably get one or two good reviews here and there but twenty bad ones peppered on the book page on Amazon when the usual breed of readers will show up calling the heroine amoral, slutty, unlikeable, and what-not while at the same time asking the author to give that amoral and slutty best friend of the hero his own story because such men turn these readers’ switches on even better than electricity. But then again, why write about a spy heroine when the author has no intention of allowing the heroine to be even halfway capable as one? Why write about espionage when the author would rather write about matchmaking efforts of the secondary characters on the main characters?
Nothing about the plot makes sense, nothing about the characters’ reactions to their situation make sense, and half the time their motivations don’t make sense as well. This book is well-written but incoherent gibberish.