But, that would be bizarre, and a terrible waste of a book, so instead, I keep the book intact and reread. Or, in the case of this one, I sent it overseas to my critique partner, because I had an advance copy and she HAD TO READ IT NOW BECAUSE IT IS SO AMAZING!
The hero, one Marquess of Vere, is this sort of Regency James Bond, and he goes around pretending to be an idiot (he has for years - that's his cover! - he's given up everything to play this role in service to the crown. He says dorky annoying things and spills food on himself. Etc.). Needless to say, no women ever wanted to marry him.
The heroine Ellisande is this woman who's been kept in this kind of Gothic isolation along with her aunt by an evil uncle. For years. The uncle, however, also happens to be the very elusive subject of a Team Vere investigation.
At the start of the book, Vere and his Regency spy comrades stage a rat infestation in a neighboring manor as an excuse to impose upon Ellisande and her aunt, as soon as the evil uncle leaves for a trip.
Nobody from the outside ever comes to the manor, and Ellisande recognizes this as a rare chance for freedom for herself and her aunt - if only she could get one of the guys to marry her. Here, Ellisande is contemplating the allowing the visitors to stay—so dangerous if it doesn't work and evil uncle finds out, which of course, he will.
The chance of success: infinitesimal. The cost of failure: unthinkable.She rose from her seat. The windows of the drawing room gave a clear view of the gates of the estate. It had been years since she last ventured past those gates. It had been at least twice as long since her aunt last left the manor itself.Her lungs labored against the suddenly thin air. Her stomach wanted very much to eject her lunch. She gripped the edge of the window frame, dizzy and ill, while behind her Lady Kingsley went on and on about her guests’ civility and amiability, about the wonderful time to be had by all. Why, Elissande didn’t even need to worry about securing provisions for them. The kitchen at Woodley Manor, well removed from the house, had been spared from the rats.Slowly, Elissande turned around. And then she smiled the kind of smile she gave her uncle when he annouced that, no, he wouldn’t go to South Africa after all, when she’d finally come to believe that he truly would, following months of preparations she’d witnessed with her own eyes.Lady Kingsley fell quiet before this smile.“We shall be only too glad to help,” said Elissande.
I love how this passage builds up and up, with energy and meaning and momentum, sweeping upward to a high, still point. Thomas is so great at making these little whirlwinds within a book.
The smile is also key here. Ellisande’s smile is a kind of expert camouflage for her true feelings, and it’s a powerful, glorious smile that fools even the brilliant Vere. At first.
She ends up entrapping Vere in a marriage, of course. She was going for his brother, but she'll settle for the idiot, as she just has to get OUT of there.
I love the anticipation for things being revealed, or figured out by the characters - the fun of the eureka moment -and this book so delivered on those moments, over and over as both of these characters’ deceptions unravelled. I love the angry brilliance of Vere, and how upset he is to have been caught by Ellisande. I love Ellisande’s mettle.
Another thing: Lord Fredrick makes a reappearance! Remember him as the spurned suitor from Private Arrangements? Lord Fredrick is an artist, and he is not only the subject of the subplot, but there is a cool little interweaving of art.
I loved this thing to pieces. While I was reading it, I never wanted it to end. Love love love. Pages fluttering. Roll roll roll.
Image: Detail from "A Quiet Pet' by John William Godward, from Wikimedia.