Monday 30 June 2014

#CBR6 Book 63: "The Deception of the Emerald Ring" by Lauren Willig

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4 stars

When Letitia "Letty" Alsworthy discovers that her older sister, the stunning Mary, is about to elope with her admirer, Lord Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, she is determined to stop it. Their family is in dire financial straits as it is, the scandal of an elopement would be devastating for them. Unfortunately, Letty finds herself whisked away by the crabby coachman, and in the arms of the besotted Geoffrey before she's able to stop anything at all. Add to the fact that some of Geoff's friends conveniently happen to interrupt them in the middle of the passionate embrace, and the Alsworthy's suddenly have a very different scandal on their hands. Having been caught compromising his intended's younger sister, Geoffrey has no choice but to marry her, but he's not going to be gracious or understanding about it. Luckily, the Pink Carnation needs him to go to Ireland to help intercept a French plot, and he leaves Letty at the family estate after the ceremony, with no explanation.

Letty is mortified that she ended up married to her sister's suitor, but also angry that she's not been able to explain herself properly. Mary, Geoffrey and quite a large part of polite society thinks that she's a scheming minx who plotted the whole thing to snare herself a rich and titled husband. Letty didn't even want to get married, but she's certainly not going to let her husband abandon her so soon after the wedding. If the gossips knew, the scandal would be all the greater. So she follows him there, pretending to her fellow travellers that she's a widow. When she arrives in Dublin, she discovers that her husband appears to be very publicly wooing a vacuous and flighty young blonde, with no care for the new wife he left behind in England. Little does she know that the bimbo is in fact an English spy and that she and Geoff are working together to ensnare the elusive French spy, the Black Tulip. Will Letty's appearance in the midst of their operation ruin everything? Will Geoffrey ever learn the truth about his bride, and forgive her for the terrible mix-up? Will Letty discover that perhaps she prefers Geoff's dashing cousin or perhaps the coldly elegant Lord Vaughn?

In modern day London, Eloise, who is diligently tracking Letty, Geoff and the Pink Carnation's movements in old letters, diaries and documents as part of her dissertation is constantly distracted from her work by her thoughts of Colin Selwick, who hasn't called her back, even though it's been weeks since they saw each other last. Did she completely misinterpret the signals between them?

The parts with Eloise were pretty much unbearable in this book, chick lit at its worst. Her internal monologue is constantly about Colin and bemoaning the fact that he's not contacted her. When she finally discovers why, it's quite obvious that while she thinks she's the centre of the universe and everything has to be about her, the reasons why he didn't call had a very good explanation and for reasons I completely fail to understand, he seems to still be interested in her and attracted to her. Completely baffling.

The historical sections with Letty, Geoffrey and the Pink Carnation are a hoot, however. If they hadn't been so good, the Eloise bits would probably have lost the book points. Such a fun romp and I was delighted when I discovered that the plot is partly inspired by Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer, one of my favourite of her romances. Apparently, Willig has other plans for the calculating and beautiful Mary Alsworthy and needed a good way of separating her from Geoffrey. It's been clear in the previous two books that he was completely besotted with her, but forcing him into marriage with the younger Alsworthy sister clearly ended up being a blessing in disguise. I refuse to believe that the Alsworthy parents are not at least a little inspired by Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, their portrayal, characterisation and quite a bit of the dialogue felt like it could have been taken from deleted scenes from that book.

Poor Letty has always lived in her older sister's shadow. Mary is the tall, elegant, beautiful one, who everyone believes will make a very good match. Yet, after two seasons and only disappointing offers to show for it, Mary is ready to settle for Lord Pinchingdale-Snipe, who while she might find him dull and his poetry atrocious, is at least wealthy and titled. So it's quite a blow for Mary to discover that her ginger-haired, quiet, sensible and pragmatic sister appears to have stolen him away from under her nose. Letty really did only have the best of intentions in mind, but when she found herself passionately embraced and kissed in a dark coach, she responded before really thinking things through. She tries to talk both her father and Geoffrey out of the wedding, to no avail.

While she may be quiet and practical, she's clearly also secretly fierce and passionate and she refuses to be abandoned by her husband. It's clear that Geoffrey, one of the War Office's top spies because he is so anonymous, unobtrusive and extremely good at observing and reading those around him, is so worked up initially that he doesn't take the time to actually consider Letty's explanations. When he finds her in Ireland, with knowledge that could seriously jeopardise the mission were she to tell people the truth about their marriage, he recalls all his previous encounters with his beloved Mary's sister, and starts to consider that her vehement explanations of her own innocence may, in fact, not just be lies to cover up her dastardly deceit.

I like a good spy story, with disguises and clever people and plots. I love witty dialogue and couples who fall in love despite initially fighting constantly. This book has all of that. It's quite obvious to the reader that Letty is a much more suitable wife for Geoffrey than Mary, but the entertaining part is watching him figure that out, while also helping England's top spy foil an Irish rebellion funded by the French. I think this is my favourite book in the series so far, at least if I just forget all about the annoying Eloise parts.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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