Charlotte Mede
2008, European Historical Romance (1810s England and France)
Brava, $14.00, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 075822365X

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Warm

Many know the history of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony - how he initially dedicated it to Napoleon, whom he admired as the embodiment of the ideals of the French Revolution, only to scratch out the name "Napoleon" so violently that he tore a hole in the manuscript when Napoleon declared himself Emperor. (You can see the title page here.) Explosive purports that there is a secret code written into the music of the symphony, a formula for a new explosive weapon which will help Napoleon escape his second exile on St. Helena and guarantee his place as Emperor of all Europe. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? I thought so too, which is why I selected this book to review. Too bad it wasn't.

Devon (I swear, I rolled my eyes every time I read her name) Caravelle is the daughter of the cryptologist who embedded the secret code into the original manuscript of the symphony. Devon (shudder) is caught between two men who want her help in deciphering the code - Comte de Maupassant, who wishes to free Napoleon, and Gray Dalton, the Marquess of Blackthorn, an English spy who wants the code safely in English hands. Devon wants only to clear her father's name from the stigma of treason. Blackthorn, a brilliant cryptologist and Devon, an extraordinary musician, may be the only two people who, working together, can decipher the code. Both de Maupassant and Blackthorn wish to set up the partnership, but both wish to be assured of Devon's loyalties beforehand.

The first half of the book was a tedious series of scenes where Devon is ping-ponged back and forth between the men, both playing their games, alternately wooing and threatening her. One might have expected to feel sympathy for her but these scenes were so uninteresting that my only feeling was relief when they were left behind.

I was surprised at the relative lack of interesting love scenes for a Brava release, and in fact, this book earned only a Warm rating from me. While the scenes were well-written, and a welcome bit of accord between Devon and Blackthorn, once they were finished, they immediately reverted to their usual mistrust and secretiveness, so the love scenes did little to actually advance the relationship beyond the physical.

Once Devon and Blackthorn were holed up, working on the code together and no longer resisting their attraction, things picked up. The final half of the book is much better than the first. But it took me so long to slog my way through the beginning (more than a week) that I can't recommend that you attempt to do the same.

-- Cheryl Sneed

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