Twelfth Night Secrets

Jane Feather
November 2012, European Historical Romance (1797 England)
Pocket, $6.99, 257 pages, Amazon ASIN 143914527X

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Warm

Jane Feather has been writing romances for what seems like forever; I remember reading her early in my romance reading life, before AAR existed. Though I vaguely remember some of those V books being good back in the day, the two books Iíve read in the last decade have both been underwhelming.

On paper, Feather's books usually sound like my cup of tea, which is why I picked up Twelfth Night Secrets. It takes place during a Christmas houseparty - and to paraphrase Edward Cullen of Twilight fame, thatís exactly my kind of heroin. The heroine is fairly young, never married, and still grieving the loss of her older brother in a recent spy mission. Lady Harriet Devere has two younger siblings to care for and a Christmas house party to pull off at her grandfatherís home. Sheís also been instructed - by the war ministry - to gather information on Julius Forsythe, Earl of Marbury. The ministry believes that he could potentially be a double agent working for the French. He was also a close friend of her brother, whom her grandfather has invited to the party.

The book is written in a semi-awkward fashion in that the author doesnít seem to want the reader to know (initially anyway) that Julius is innocent. Now, this is just plain silly. Heís the hero of a romance novel. Is there a romance novel where a British heroine ends up with a real, honest to goodness French spy? I doubt it. Anyway, Julius spends a good deal of the book in secret activities that are not explained to the reader. Well, we know heís sending carrier pigeons from Oxford with messages, and marking trees for secret rendezvous, but we donít really know what side heís on.

While Julius is spending quality secret activity time, Harriet has her own pursuits. She spends a lot of time discussing Christmas preparations with the servants (really, way more time than you would think.) This window into below stairs is kind of like Downton Abbey, but without any of the intrigue that makes Downton Abbey interesting. Harriet also awkwardly sets about trying to prove Juliusís innocence. or maybe guilt. Sheís not really sure, but her efforts are ham-handed by any standard. Her fishing conversations where she tries to get Julius to talk about divided loyalties and how deep his friendship with her brother Nick really was are almost painful to read.

Meanwhile, Harriet also spends time taking care of her younger siblings, and Julius tries to help with that,l occasionally stepping in in ways that remind Harriet of Nick

You know what Harriet and Julius donít spend much time doing? Falling in love. They also donít spend a whole lot of time even thinking about falling in love. I think Feather forgot she was writing a romance novel and that they were supposed to do that. Really they are just too busy sending carrier pigeons, searching rooms, getting ready for Christmas, and having awkward conversations about loyalty that do absolutely nothing to increase the nonexistent sexual tension.

Because the sexual tension is nonexistent, I found myself completely taken by surprise when Julius and Harriet had sex. As she was saying, ďI want this,Ē I was thinking, ďAre you sure? I didnít know you even liked each other. Also you still think he might be a French spy.Ē Oh yeah, and Iím not a huge fan of heroines in historical romances who hop into bed without thinking about the consequences at all. Thereís not any sort of lead up to this; no heated scene interrupted by others, no thought (at least on Harrietís part) of how sleeping with Julius seems like a damn fine idea or anything like that. One second sheís following him outside and observing his rendezvous with some French guy, and the next they are sleeping together and she wants this.

I should add that the spy plot is resolved in a way that makes little sense. Harrietís grandfather ends up knowing what is going on the whole time, which makes one wonder why he didnít let her - or the War Office - in on that. But at that point I am not sure I cared.

Though I had several nitpicks with Twelfth Night Secrets, it isnít quite as bad as I am making it sound. I enjoyed some of the Christmas activities, and I didnít dislike either Harriet or Julius - I just didnít quite buy their romance, probably because Iím still not sure there was one. I think I might be done with Jane Feather, though. If she canít sell me on a Christmas house party, hers books probably just arenít for me.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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