Monday, February 22, 2010
After 12 years in India, Robert, Duke of Dovedale, returns to his estates in England with a mission in mind-- to infiltrate the infamous Hellfire club to unmask the man who murdered his mentor at the Battle of Assaye. Intent on revenge, Robert never anticipates that an even more difficult challenge awaits him, in the person of one Lady Charlotte Lansdowne. Throughout her secluded youth, Robert was Lady Charlotte's favorite knight in shining armor, the focus of all her adolescent daydreams. The intervening years have only served to render him more dashing. But, unbeknownst to Charlotte, Robert has an ulterior motive of his own for returning to England, a motive that has nothing to do with taking up the ducal mantle. As Charlotte returns to London to take up her post as Maid of Honor to Queen Charlotte, echoes from Robert's past endanger not only their relationship but the very throne itself.
Fifth in the Pink Carnation Series, I can't say I was really thrilled with it. I love the series overall, but for a number of reasons, this is my least favorite of the books.
For starters, I barely know Charlotte from the earlier books, she's all new to me. Same thing with Dovedale, her duke who has returned from India. In the previous books Charlotte is described as a shy, insipid debutante with a dragon for a grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale. It was hard for me to change gears and think of Charlotte as our heroine now. She is still a quiet and retiring girl. A bookworm with fantasies of living in a romance novel, comparing the men she meets (not many) to the heroes or rakes of her novels.
When Robert, the Duke of Dovedale returns unexpectedly from India she falls for him all over again. He reciprocates her feelings and they have one mad, romantic (and yes a bit corny), blissful night on the roof of the estate where they are staying (they are distant cousins and are living in the same house). But, at the same time, he's in England now to avenge the death of his mentor and commanding officer who was shot in the back by a fellow soldier, Wrothan. Robert is determined to seek out this traitor and kill him. The traitor winds up being in league with a number of ne'er do well aristocrats who are members of the infamous Hellfire Club in London. The leader of the Club is Sir Francis Medmenham, a dissolute earl who Robert befriends to get closer to his target, Wrothan. It turns out Wrothan has been in cahoots with a French agent, the Night Jasmine - and so is the link in the series. Another French spy, although Jane, our Pink Carnation is not in this book at all. Miles and Henrietta Selwyck Dorrington have major roles in this book instead.
Robert, our hero, loves Charlotte yet he realizes he will be putting her in danger with his secret activities, so he does the "noble" thing and drops her like a hot potato and leaves her in the lurch. Leaving the estate the next day without a good-bye, he leaves her with one brief note, "Forgive Me." She can't believe he's really left her for good, but over time she comes to realize he has. She carries her heartbreak inside her, soldiering on. Many weeks later she is a maid in waiting for the queen of England, George III's wife, and she runs into Robert again. He is a changed and different person now, nothing like her dear cousin whom she kissed on a cold and wintry evening on the roof. He is now a member of the Hellfire Club and must act the part and she wants no part of him - though of course, her heart still yearns for him.
Meanwhile, Charlotte is involved in an entirely different matter involving the King of England! It turns out that someone is drugging him to simulate madness (he's already been mad before, so it's not a stretch). Charlotte uncovers the plot and seeks to help him. She gets her best friend Henrietta to help her, as well as Henrietta's husband, Miles. Eventually it's tied in with the nefarious and lewd activities of the Hellfire Club. Robert's quest to avenge his mentor coincides with the kidnapping of the king, and they all go on a long rescue mission to recover King George in the caves of the Hellfire Club! Soon enough, Charlotte realizes that Robert has been faking his dissolute friendship and involvement with the members of the Hellfire Club and she understands why he avoided her. She forgives him eventually - though a lot sooner than I would have!
I'm just not fond of "boy meet girl, boy drops girl and breaks her heart to save her" scenarios. For the majority of the book poor Charlotte is heartbroken over thinking Robert is a big jerk and he is doing his best to live up to that idea of hers. I really couldn't stand it which is why this was my least favorite of the series. As sweet as Charlotte was, she had no ooomph or appeal to me, though she does stand up for herself in the end and doesn't quite fall into Robert's arms right away. She also does her best to save the king and skulks around with Henrietta into dangerous situations. But, she still didn't really "come to life" for me.
The book overall wasn't bad, but I was expecting something lighter and wittier like the earlier books in the series. This was the darkest and heaviest of them. The situation with the king was distressing and it went on interminably as well. I wanted more interaction between Charlotte and Robert, yet what there was between them wasn't all that satisfying either. The story itself and plotline were good as long as you aren't looking for more of a romance. This book was more suspense-like. They all have espionage in them, but this moreso without the usual humor that is thrown in. In fact there was no culminating sex scene or wedding night moment either, I think the books are tending to lean away from sex as the series goes on, the first being the raciest of them all, in my opinion.
Regarding the modern day storyline between Colin and Eloise, that was disappointing as well. Eloise is really beginning to annoy me now, she's just so dense sometimes when it comes to being in a relationship! Plus, I kept wondering if they're now having sex together? They're sleeping in the same bed, but did I miss something? Are we just supposed to assume they're having sex? How odd, since we've been building up to their finally getting together - their first kiss was more exciting than their first night together! She spent most of the night skulking around his house in her winter nightgown, searching through his library convinced he's a spy! Maybe this fifth installment in the Pink Carnation series was supposed to be "clean" on purpose. I must admit, I felt like I missed the party, I want some of that old romance and sex back! ;)
I listened to this on audio while driving down to FL from NJ and then on the beach. This installment in the series had a different reader this time, Justine Eyre, who wasn't bad, though at first she kept pronouncing Eloise like it was French "elle-wos" instead of "L-O-eeze" I think she made Eloise sound ditzier than usual, hence I wasn't as crazy about her in this one, but the men's voices were fine as were the historical ones. I think I prefer the other reader, Kate Reading. I noticed that in the next sixth book, Betrayal of the Blood Lily, Reading is doing the narration once again.