When famed London courtesan Alessandra Northrope passes away, her daughter Celia Pennifold inherits little more than a hopelessly contaminated reputation, a house in a middle class neighborhood, and an education that prepared her to take her mother’s place the way Alessandra intended. Celia hopes to make her own life on her own terms, however, and moves into the house only to discover one more legacy—an enigmatic, handsome tenant who knows her mother’s plans for her future rather too well.
Jonathan thinks he is on a simple mission to discover whether Celia’s mother left accounts of her lovers that might embarrass important men. Instead he finds himself embroiled in a mystery full of dangerous betrayals and secrets, old and new, that touch on his life as well as Celia’s.
My mantra for reading this book became: The plural of linen is linen. The plural of linen is linen.
In the first fifth of the book there is a lot of discussion of bed linen (or linens, as I read over and over and over on many a page), so what should have been a minor problem for me escalated into something that nearly drove me insane! Little Americanisms added here, there and everywhere chip away at a Regency romance and really ruin my enjoyment of them.
The first two books in this series are went on my Best of 2013 list. I loved them very, very much. This one – the third – took me significantly longer to read, and I’m not entirely sure why.
However Madeline Hunter’s excellent writing skills saved this one for me.
The highlight of Hunter’s writing, for me, is twofold.
Firstly, she doesn’t just pay lip service to the social rules of the era. Her characters live within them. You don’t really realise how frequently “historical” romances are modernised until you find an author who actually remembers what people could and could not achieve according to their social station.
Secondly, and this sounds like a contradiction considering my first point, Hunter manages to infuse her books with a thread of feminism. Unlike the blatant, gun-wielding, chaperone-free, men’s clothes-wearing, too-modern-for-their-time feminists of too many books in this genre, the feminism is more subtle, but it is there. Her heroines are very restricted by the society they live in, but they have dignity and respect and make sensible, practical choices about their own lives. Even in this book, a book about the daughter of a courtesan who is expected to follow in her mother’s footsteps, the heroine acted admirably and sensibly in relation to her future.
So yes, while my first instinct was to be too annoyed to not finish this book, in the end I’m very glad I continued.