Desert Isle Keeper Review
Daughter of the Game
2003 reissue of 2002 release, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
HarperTorch, $6.99, 496 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061032069
Part of a series
How many books have you read where the hero is calling the heroine "dearest" and "my love" at one point, and then a hundred pages later is swearing, "So help me God, I never want to see you again"? And how many times have you found either the deep love or deep hate hard to buy, knowing it will all work out fine?
Well, trust me, in Daughter of the Game, you will find both utterly convincing, and it will be nearly impossible to imagine that anything can work out. Or that you will believe it when it does.
That Tracy Grant makes this situation as truly dark as it is, and brings her characters back from the brink of this precipice in a believable way, is enough to make Daughter of the Game a standout on any romance reader's bookshelf. And that is only a small part of her accomplishment in this novel.
I knew I was in for an unconventional book in the first few pages, when the hero and heroine are shown to have already been married for seven years, and blissfully living their happily ever after. Charles and Mélanie Fraser arrive home from an evening of the social and political whirl they move in as a member of Parliament and a political wife. A wonderful Nick and Nora Charles sort of scene follows, where they undress, flirt, discuss the party and various personages, and are close to finishing the evening with some lovemaking. It's the sort of scene that forms the epilogue of most romance novels. And then disaster strikes and within a few chapters, their entire world has literally come apart around them.
A person from Charles and Mélanie's shared past in the Peninsular War has orchestrated the kidnapping of the Frasers' seven-year-old son in order to gain a ring which he believes they have. And that's all the detail of the plot that I can comfortably provide without risking spoilers - this is one book where you don't want to go in knowing what comes next. Once the plot is set in motion, Daughter of the Game becomes a dizzying whirl of taut suspense, shocking revelations (one of which made me literally gasp out loud), and wonderful dialogue among a large cast of characters ranging from royalty to stableboys, all set against a detailed, historically accurate backdrop of late Regency England.
Charles and Mélanie are a fabulous couple. Both are extremely intelligent, and respectful of each other even in the most awful circumstances imaginable. Charles never once tries to leave Mélanie out of the hunt for their son or do the old romance hero "Sorry, dear, this is too dangerous or unseemly for a female" dodge. Mélanie never hares off on her own in some too-stupid-to-live scheme. Their matter-of-factness and teamwork in the face of danger has appealing echoes of Steed and Emma Peel, but they are wholly unique in their smart classiness, always ready with either a useful weapon or appropriate Shakespearean quote for whatever the situation demands.
Is it obvious that I loved this book? I could not put it down and read it as fast as I could turn the pages. One of the pleasures of finishing it was browsing back through earlier conversations and seeing how things mentioned in passing later became important. It was especially enlightening to re-read the seemingly light and flirtatious discussion in the first scene, knowing what I'd learned about the characters by the end of the book.
The most amazing accomplishment in Daughter of the Game is the way Tracy Grant juggles so many elements so competently. There's the complex plot, the detailed descriptions and backgrounds, the logistics of a search that ranges all over London from the richest neighborhoods to the poorest, the development of the richly drawn main characters, a cast of dozens of supporting characters and more. Yet she never lets go of the urgency and desperation driving Charles and Mélanie in search of their son and the truths underlying their seemingly perfect lives - an urgency that equally drives the reader.
Looking back after I finished it, I could see so many places where Grant could have taken an easier, clichéd, typical route out of the various situations. She never does as an author, and she doesn't permit it for her characters. Thus she is able to bring them from the bleakest Black Moment of a relationship that I've ever read in any book, to a satisfying ending that I was able to completely believe and embrace.
My quibbles with the book are small - the situation of the ring itself (and the reasons for the interest in it), and the motives of one of the main characters in his actions at the climax of the book were both a little thin to me. I also could not figure out why Charles didn't share a major insight with Mélanie a bit earlier, when they had shared so much information already. But these are, indeed, quibbles when set against the whole of the book.
If you've been yearning for a book that could fully pull you into its world, where the historical setting is rich and not mere wallpaper, where the hero and heroine felt like three-dimensional people you would love to spend time with, where neither the suspense nor the resolution of personal dilemmas feels trite or contrived - check out Daughter of the Game. And then put your name behind mine on the waiting list for Tracy Grant's next book.
-- Colleen McMahon
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