A fast-paced book heavy on the spy plot—a good thing if you feel that the hero doesn’t deserve the heroine. Lady Julia needs her own series.
Lady Julia Leighton meets a mysterious stranger at her betrothal ball. An impoverished former viscount, Thomas Meritt is there to steal something to make ends meet. They fall in love…but they have to part ways. A year later, Julia is working as a companion in a diplomatic household in Vienna, and somehow, through interesting circumstances, she meets Thomas again.
Most spy-ish novels feel contrived, where the hero is some sort of lord acting in service to the Crown. He usually has a comic-book-type nickname, like ‘the Falcon’, and he is good at tracking/hunting/spying/sleeping with women to gain information. This book is different because the intrigue seems more realistic. Lecia Cornwall creates a combination of fictional and actual historical characters who are not just ridiculous, two-dimensional secondary characters. The diplomatic situations and machinations kept me captivated.
However, the story is somewhat wasted as a romance. The Secret Life of Lady Julia is an excellent period spy novel, and I felt that it would have been better off with a more fleshed out background for Julia and Thomas, and with more intrigue and diplomatic and spy discussions thrown in, with the romance as a side plot, rather than the focus. Both characters are excellent as individuals (even though I often wanted to smack Thomas for his martyrdom—seriously, his sense honour caused him to lose his title?), but together…they don’t deserve each other. Julia deserves a man with more balls and less honour, and Thomas deserves more time to grow said balls and be more than just a charming rake. (This book has somewhat of a love triangle, and the other guy totally doesn’t deserve her either.)
Julia is a great character. I feel like she could have her own series. She manages to make the best of her situation, lands on her feet, and somehow saves the day. She is plucky and courageous, and she does the best with what she has, which is saying a lot for a woman of her circumstances in the time she was in.
Yay or nay?
This is a fast-paced novel that kept my interest to the end. The romance felt overshadowed by the spy plot—which is not a bad thing, because I didn’t feel that the hero deserved the heroine. I hope the author writes historical fiction someday. I think her writing is well-suited for it. I’m looking forward to her next book, and I’ll be grabbing the previous one when I can.
Who might enjoy it: Readers who love a strong historical heroine
Who might not enjoy it: Historical romance readers weary of spies
An advance reading copy of this book was generously provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.