Verdict: OK, so-so, neither bad nor brilliant.
The cover is so romancy! I find this amusing. Anyway, I decided to branch out my romance reading from Tessa Dare’s excellent regency romances and came up with Meredith Duran’s spy/romance novel set in the 1880s.
I loved the female lead, Mina, who is a sharp, independent businesswoman under a disarming layer of frothy girlishness she uses to manipulate men. I found the male lead, Phin, to be a bit…meh? My total historical romance novel experience is like five books but so far every single one has involved a dark brooding male hero with a title and a dark past/emotional damage. Dudes. Lighten up.
Unlike Tessa Dare’s novels, where the whole plot is the romance (not a bad thing) Duran seems to be trying to balance the mystery/spy plot and the romantic plot equally. Unfortunately, this plays out as slightly shortchanging both. There’s a lot of Mina being kept under house arrest/imprisoned and ruminating darkly on how she hates to be caged, and the most exciting thing that happens in the plot involves a leisurely a trip to the seaside/rescue mission. Although many other characters are frequently referred to, including from Mina’s best friend Jane, Mina’s ex-lover, Mina’s evil stepfather, Mina’s mother, Phin’s old school teacher, Phin’s dark-past inducing old boss, Phin’s dark-past inducing father none of these people actually APPEAR in more than one direct scene so it all becomes quite wrapped up in the protagonists’ thoughts and remembrances and gets a bit too telling not showing.
The romance between Mina and Phin is fun and sexy, and the spy half of the plot originally seems to have so much potential- exotic locales, the secret service, escape of criminals and abduction of loved ones!- and then becomes rather vague and much less interesting. Possibly it’s because there’s never a sense of urgency timewise?
In conclusion: Mina is such a fun character! I wish we’d had more opportunities to SEE her interact with other people and come up with and execute daring plans! Let’s talk more about her beauty product business!