July 2008, European Historical Romance (1810s [Regency] France and England)
Harl Hist #903, $5.99, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373295030 Part of a series
After writing a number of very enjoyable stand-alone titles, Louise Allen has embarked on telling the stories of the members of a large family. In her case, it’s not a set of siblings, but of cousins. A family tree is printed right at the front of the book, which is a shame, because it contains a major spoiler for The Dangerous Mr. Ryder, the first book in this series. So I would suggest you skip the family tree altogether and jump right in.
The novel begins with the hero hanging on a rope above a chasm outside the heroine’s bedroom window. Jack Ryder, an agent employed by the British government, must spirit the Grand Duchess Eva de Maubourg into safety to England, where her nine-year-old son, the current grand duke, is at school. Maubourg is a small, independent principality somewhere south of Lyons – think a landlocked Monaco. The late grand duke managed to retain its independence through the years of revolution and Napoleon’s reign, but he died two years ago, leaving his brother and widow as co-regents. Now his brother is ailing, likely poisoned, and Eva has just survived several attempts on her life. The likely perpetrator is another brother of the late grand duke, a fervent supporter of Napoleon.
Eva is shocked when a man climbs through her window, but she recovers quickly. Although she is loath to leave her people, for whom she feels a strong responsibility, she knows that she will be of greater use for them alive. Therefore, she agrees to leave the castle with Mr. Ryder, making a quick detour for some spying on her brother-in-law’s plans. The rest of the book is a road romance, with Eva and Jack trying to make their way as unobtrusively as possible through a France and Belgium preparing for the big battle about to be fought between Napoleon and the Allied Forces at Waterloo.
Jack is a very pleasant character, strong and self-confident but never domineering, and understanding of the difficult situation Eva finds herself in without letting her walk all over him. Eva is the more memorable of the two, because the author really tries to imagine what a woman in such a position might feel, which takes her a step beyond many generic princesses-in-distress in romance. First and foremost Eva is responsible for her son, her country, and her people. Although not royal by birth, she married royalty at a very young age, and this feeling of responsibility and awareness of her position is deeply embedded. It never leaves her mind - and influences all her actions. During her travels with Jack, on the other hand, she full-heartedly enjoys her anonymity and the ability to experience things she might never otherwise be permitted to do.
A widow of two years, Eva misses sex, but feels she cannot take a lover as the gossip and the broadsheets would harm her reputation and ultimately her position as ruler. So when she is on the road with a both highly attractive and charming man, she jumps on the occasion and actually instigates their first time together. The relationship thus begins in lust and liking, quickly developing to much more. Although there are quite a few love scenes in the book, their description – intense and emotional but not too detailed or too adventurous in technique – makes me rate this book as “warm,” albeit bordering on “hot.”
All in all The Dangerous Mr. Ryder is a very pleasant read, with an unusual story and unusual heroine. It lacks that certain something that makes me put a book on my keeper shelf, but the writing is still highly enjoyable. I can recommend it fully and am looking forward to reading the next installments in the series.
-- Rike Horstmann
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