After the travesty of To Distraction, this was a breath of fresh air though that's not a super hard threshold to conquer, is it? God, I still get annoyed by that book.
This entry in the series brings back both Malcolm Sinclair and the recurring "last traitor" plot. I don't really know what Malcolm is doing here -- he seems to have a sort of slightly nefarious plot brewing to get some tinning leases but it fizzles out pretty quick. I know he's in more of Laurens' books -- and he gets his own redemption book but it's hard to see what he adds here.
The plot itself centers around the last traitor though it takes some time for that plot get going. Like To Distraction and A Fine Passion, the romance takes center stage for the first half of the book. Thankfully, this book follows in the footsteps of A Fine Passion because the romance isn't so bad. It's not nearly as good as either Tristan and Leonora and Jack and Clarice, but it's a comfortable in third finish.
The characters are in the mold of the usual Laurens leads and there isn't much to differentiate them from, say, Jack and Clarice. They're all strong-minded people who love their land and their family. The leads and their supporting cast are serviceable but nothing special.
The romance, however, is a bit unique in that Gervase has known Madeline for many years but he's always seen her as an equal, not necessarily as someone who he might be interested in. She's always been in that other box. Once he comes home, he promises his sisters he'll marry the next eligible woman he comes across -- and that turns out to be Madeline. He sets out to see if they're compatible, and once he's decided she is, sets out to convince her.
There are aspects to the romance that I find less than convincing, but they work within the particular world that Stephanie Laurens has constructed for her society. I'll get into them in the weeds.
I think is is an okay entry in the series. It reminds me of A Lady of His Own in that everything does what it's there to do, but nothing really stands out.
I don't really have any serious pieces of critique to talk about or any thing I really want to gush about either. The romance could have easily been as awful as To Distraction because it has some of the same elements -- Gervase setting out to convince Madeline to marry him -- but it has none of the stalker type things that destroyed that last book. Very early on, Madeline confronts Gervase about why she thinks he must be asking her for an affair, not considering her hand in marriage. She gives him four reasons why she doesn't believe that's the case, and he spends the rest of the book trying to debunk her reasons. That's fine, and Madeline is on board with an affair, so it's not like Gervase is forcing her to do anything.
I think the tinning lease Sinclair plot is supposed to give Madeline and Gervase an early chance to work together, but since Malcolm takes off within the first 100 pages, it's just fizzle. I'm sure it's relevant in another book -- but it doesn't even become relevant in this series, which is why I wish Laurens had chosen any other character for that role.
The rest of it is fine -- the Brady Bunch siblings are kind of annoying (they each have three younger siblings of the opposite sex). I don't understand how Gervase is so close to his sisters since he's been a spy at war for basically their entire lives, but okay, fine. I don't really buy that Madeline thinks she's she too old to be his bride or that any of her reasons are actually realistic, but whatever. Gervase accepts them and gets rid of them.
I mean, it was just fine. It takes a while to get to the main plot but I like the idea of the last traitor waiting for his 30 pieces of silver and whatnot. It escalates nicely, but I could have done without the second brother getting kidnapped.
Perhaps the best part of this book is that I still like Dalziel. He has a great moment at the end of the book where he isn't sure if Madeline can take care of herself in a fight, and then the woman beats him at a fencing match. He likes to give orders, but he can be reasoned with. All in all, I'm looking forward to his book and seeing if he still holds up.
Overall Response After the travesty of To Distraction, this was a breath of fresh air though that's not a super hard threshold to conquer, is it? God, I still get annoyed by that book. This ...