Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58307-7
Historical Romance, 2003
Jane Feather’s To Kiss a Spy is dressed up to be an unconventional “I love a spy” romance, but upon a closer look, everything about it threatens to fall apart. The romance between the hero and the heroine doesn’t seem to have any sparks (she realizes that she loves him after… hmmm, how did that come about anyway?), the heroine’s betrayal of her Princess Mary is brushed aside easily in the end, and the whole political set-up eventually peters away into the My Meanie Brother-In-Law and My Nasty Momma-In-Law Are Evil external conflict.
Despite being set up to the smart and practical one, our heroine Penelope “Pen” Bryantson is actually a rather gullible and docile brown cow. Her whole life is single-mindedly devoted to tracking down the baby she believes is taken away from her by the Gruesome Twosome In-Laws when her hubby died and she went into early labor. Because, you see, by disposing of the kid, the Gruesome Twosome can then inherit the money and have lots of parties. I know that, you know that, but Pen, well, she’s a little bit slower sometimes.
Like when it comes to our hero Owen D’Arcy. When Pen informs her stepbrother Robin of meeting Owen, he sums up the man correctly: Owen is a French spy hoping to cozy up with Pen for all the wrong reasons. But he doesn’t inform his sister until much later, certain that Pen can figure it out herself. Hear the buzzer, dude? That’s the wrong answer. You should have told her at once. Never overestimate a romance heroine’s brainpower, that’s what I always say.
By the time Pen realizes what Owen is up to, he is offering her a deal. She passes on information she learns from Princess Mary to him, and he will help her look for the kid. Never mind of the dire consequences treachery here – it’s for a baby that may or may not be alive. She has to! She has no choice! After all, the Mother of All Plot Contrivances has made it so that nobody believes Pen’s story about her baby still alive. Never mind that Robin is also a spy and is a man she trusts all her life. She has to depend on Owen – who has used her and lied to her – for this thing that only takes Owen what seems like a few short days of his life to sort out! Also, as she says, love is mixed with lust or something of equally bizarre proportions.
So they find the baby, they squash the Gruesome In-Laws, and suddenly they realize they love each other. His secret turns out to be an anticlimactic one and her consequences of her betrayal are equally anticlimactic. Princess Mary is more amused than anything – it’s love, after all, how sweet. Are we talking about the same future Queen Mary who will go chop off poor Jane Grey’s head, go all Glenn Close over her husband who doesn’t even like her, burn around 300 Protestants for “heretic crimes”, and whip a few hundred more when these people dare protest her actions?
Like an overrated Tudor-born guy named Willie would say, I believe I find this book much ado about nothing, really.