Mary Jo Putney
2003 reissue of 1994 release, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Signet, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451209109 Part of a series
Unquestionably, Mary Jo Putney was an early pioneer in the connected books phenomenon. You can argue whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but more than ten years past the publication of the first in the series, her Fallen Angels books pretty much remain the gold standard.
Dancing on the Wind is the third in the series of stories about men who met years earlier at Eton and whose life-long friendship is based on the love and support they gave each other during that difficult time. All have gone their separate ways by the time we meet them in adulthood, but the bond between them remains strong.
As this book opens, Lucien, the Earl of Strathmore, is engaged in an undercover operation to determine the identity of a French spy he has reason to believe may be connected to a secret group called the Hellions. Attempting to infiltrate the Hellions and gaining their confidence requires that he appear to be as debauched as they, something distasteful to the fastidious Earl. During several of his outings with the members, he comes across a woman who appears in a variety of disguises and who also seems to be investigating the group. Both intrigued and attracted, Lucien becomes obsessed with discovering her identity.
The young woman in question has reason to distrust Lucien - she believes him to be part of the Hellions, after all - but her attempts to thwart him are soon enough all for naught when he finally succeeds in discovering the identity of the woman who has so fascinated him. She is, in fact, Kit Travers, a newspaper writer focusing on issues of social injustice, on a desperate search to find the missing twin sister she believes has been abducted by a member of the Hellions.
Of course, Lucien and Kit feel a powerful connection, one that is made even stronger by the fact that Lucien understands the close bond Kit feels with her twin. During his years at Eton he came into his title at far too young an age after loosing his own fraternal twin, along with both his parents, in a horrific carriage accident. The connection Kit feels with Kira (okay, admittedly not a name – nor even a nickname – one was likely to come across during the Regency) is a bit woo-woo, but the bond is so strong that Kit knows of the danger her sister is facing because of a series of horrible nightmares she is currently suffering. In these dreams, consisting of images she is psychically receiving from her sister, Kira is being forced to act as a dominatrix to her captor, with Kira all too aware that she will stay alive only as long as she satisfies and entertains him. As Kit soon discovers, her sister’s time is growing ever shorter.
Both the characters of Lucien and Kit are so finely drawn and Dancing on the Wind so skillfully written, that this book is one of my favorites in an altogether outstanding series. Lucien is tortured without being morose and Kit is a forthright, strong young woman believably engaged on a quest to save her sister. If all the “twin” stuff does get a bit heavy-handed and overly New Age-y, I’d also argue that Ms. Putney was once again forging a trail by including paranormal elements in an historical romance.
As for the story itself, it’s a rip-roarin’ good one. The Hellions, clearly modeled after the Hellfire Club, are suitably nasty adversaries, without ever straying into the cartoonishly e-e-e-e-v-i-l-territory we all know so well. As for Kira’s captor, suffice it to say that he is creepy. Make that very creepy and the scenes featuring his interactions with Kira are chilling, indeed.
Since my affection for this series remains undimmed even after all these years, I’ll postulate why these books worked when so many others these days don’t. All of the Fallen Angels are different men with different family backgrounds, and the books are completely free of the shorthand in which so many authors engage. “Oh, well, she’s a Featherington, you know” simply doesn’t substitute for good, old-fashioned character development – something Ms. Putney understood very well.
First published in 1994, Dancing on the Wind remains more than ten years later one of my favorite romances of all time. If you’re a lover of historical romance and you haven’t met the Fallen Angels, hie thee to a bookstore. Pronto.
-- Sandy Coleman
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