Celeste Bradley begins a new series (the Royal Four or the Quatre Royale) with "To Wed a Scandalous Spy," dealing with spying and intrigue in Regency-era England. This series features four intrepid heroes, all of noble, aristocratic blood, all committed to protecting the realm no matter the cost. "To Wed a Scandalous Spy" features the head of the Royal Four as hero, who bears the codename Cobra, and who is in reality Nathaniel Stonewall, the Earl of Reardon.
Readers were introduced to Reardon in "The Impostor" (Bradley's other Regency-spy series, the Liar's Club). In that book, Reardon had posed as a selfish, dissolute lord in order to infiltrate a group of French sympathisers, the Knights of the Lily. But that operation had left Reardon tarnished with the reputation of a traitor, and it was assumed by one and all (even his family) that the only reason he was never prosecuted for treason was because of his title. Ostracised and shunned, Reardon hasn't allowed the past to affect his work, even if he has been hurt by the reaction of family and one time friends. And now it looks as if one of the ex-members of the Knights, Forster, is back in England, bent of wreaking havoc again. But on the way to intercept and capture Forster, Reardon is felled in a country lane by a young lady with a slingshot. Trying to make up for her mistake, Miss Willa Trent, spends the night caring for a concussed Reardon, only to be discovered in the morning by her guardian. The upshot is that Reardon finds himself married to Willa. All at once, Reardon's life has become quite complicated, for not only is he a spy on a mission, but now he's also a spy with a wife he finds quite delectable -- a wife he'd like to appear a hero to, instead of the treasonous snake everyone assumes him to be! But can the Cobra afford to let go of the callous persona he has created?
While I enjoyed "To Wed a Scandalous Spy" on several levels, certain aspects of this novel (mostly the way things were tied up in the end) gave me pause. The book started off well, and Celeste Bradley did a good job of keeping things humming on an even and interesting vein. And then of course came that fatal last chapter in which certain things about Willa's family and past were revealed, and without going into plot-spoilers, all I can say is all those revelations just made no sense. For if they were true, than Willa's guardians behaved in a manner that could be termed as being completely irresponsible. That niggle aside, "To Wed a Scandalous Spy" was an entertaining read: the story was an interesting one, the hero was a fine and noble one, and the heroine, while a little scatty at first, will win approval because of her steadfast belief in Reardon. On the whole, an entertaining 3 1/2 star read.