This unusual romance novel is a curate's egg of the first order. As the polite curate is supposed to have replied when his bishop asked if he was enjoying a breakfast egg which had obviously gone off, "Parts of it, my Lord, are excellent."
But this novel also contains a few inexcusable historical howlers, one of them in the first sentence of the story, which would have made me put the book straight back down had I not known from reading other works by Kasey Michaels that she can write very well.
The book is set just after the regency period, when the Prince Regent has finally ascended to the throne as King George IV, and the plot revolves around the astonishing feud between the new King and his estranged wife, Queen Caroline, who he unsuccessfully tried to divorce. That feud was a real and very tawdry historial event and all credit to Kasey Michaels for recognising that it might make a good backdrop for a novel.
The hero of the story is Perry Shepherd, Earl of Brentwood, who had spent the Napoleonic wars as a spy. (Extraordinary how many novels of this period feature the unlikely combination of titled hero who is also a former spy, but there you go.) His uncle, recently retired as a minister in Lord Liverpool's Tory government and still involved in its' political machinations, asks Perry to spy on the household of the new Queen, posing as a friend to look for any evidence of misbehavour which might help the King to divorce her.
From Perry's viewpoint, spying for his uncle and the government against an external enemy like Napoleon was one thing, spying on the Queen to help them find evidence for a royal divorce something else again. He pretends to take the job so that they won't send a much less scrupulous person - with no intention of actually spying on anyone.
Perry finds that the long-suffering lynchpin who keeps the Queen's extraordinary household functioning is Amelia Fredericks, supposedly one of a number of orphans who Queen Caroline has adopted - or is Amelia's true status much more important than that?
Perry and Amelia have to deal with a number of threats real and imaginary, from elderly aunts who see assassination plots against the Queen in tea leaves, through spies planted among her staff by both the King's Tory friends and Whig enemies, to self-appointed infiltrators to her household both friendly and unfriendly. But this is nothing to the challenge of dealing with their feelings for each other.
The real events of 1820 in respect of the legal battle between the King and Queen, including her trial in the House of Lords and a divorce bill which the government eventually abandoned when a majority of just nine votes in the Lords indicated that they were in danger of a defeat or phyrric victory which would humiliate the King, were more extraordinary than any work of fiction. A good spot by Kasey Michaels in recognising that these events and Queen Caroline's extraordinary household could form the setting for a novel.
In the events of real history, Queen Caroline died of natural causes the following year at about the same time as Napoleon, causing one of the most embarrassing misunderstandings in history. George IV had been advised that his wife was very ill and unlikely to survive, when a courtier bringing the King word of the death of Napoleon unfortunately attempted to break the news with the words, "Sir, your bitterest enemy is dead." Jumping to entirely the wrong conclusion, George IV replied "Is she, by God?" ...
As mentioned, this book contains some very silly mistakes. One of the characters, Sir Nathaniel Rankin, is
1) a baronet
2) a relatively young socialite with no apparent job or distinction, and
3) has a father who is still alive. (OOPS!)
A baronetcy is a hereditary title, passed down from father to son on the former's death, but since his dad also appears in the book, Nathaniel Rankin can't have inherited the title. New baronetcies were not handed out lightly, and tended to go to distinguished public servants, particularly members of parliament, (especially if the government desperately needed their vote), admirals who had won a significant naval battle, successful generals, ambassadors or judges. None of these appear to apply to Nathaniel in the book, which makes his status as a baronet rather unlikely.
Perry's uncle is described as a former "Minister of the Admiralty." There has never in British history been a ministerial office with that title, and at this point in history Admiralty did not have the espionage functions which this book infers.
From the time when the office of Lord High Admiral was put into commission in the seventeenth century, to the point when the Admiralty was absorbed into the Ministry of Defence in the twentieth, the minister in charge of the Royal Navy was called the First Lord of the Admiralty.
Nearly a century after the time this book is set, in response to the German naval buildup, the Admiralty acquired an intelligence operation under the D.N.I. (Director of Naval Intelligence) but during the Napoleonic Wars the department mainly responsible for external espionage was that of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, which at the time of this book was Lord Castlereagh.
Since the post of First Lord of the Admiralty was one of the best known ministerial titles of the period, I do not know whether to be more astonished that a writer of Kasey Michael's eminence did not know that this was the correct title for the minister responsible for the navy, or that her Mills and Boon editor didn't correct the mistake.
OK, that sort of schoolgirl howler might not bother the average romance reader, but for those who like to read stories in which the period detail is accurate, this might be highly irritating.
Nevertheless the story and the characters are interesting and mildly amusing and the book is OK as light entertainment.