This is a lovely historical romance with all the wonder of Cinderella alongside the firm independence of a Victorian woman who thought herself safely beyond the troubles of marriage. Her independence is not that of a modern woman but rather true to the Victorian Era in which she devotes herself to her father’s care and assistance. She also helps him with his work as a justice on the Queen’s Bench without getting the credit she’s due from the other legal authorities, because she’s female, evidence of her clever mind for all she is not recognized as such by any but her father.
Toss in a wish to have some adventures in her otherwise quiet life, an Alucian prince forced to seek an English bride with ties to Parliament, and the murder of a trusted secretary to get a wild romp with both tender and painful moments. Miss Eliza Tricklebank, along with her sister and their best friend, becomes an intrepid investigator who has no business looking into something as horrible as a murder. But she’s observant and clever. Even drunk on her first taste of rum punch and dazed by an unexpected royal encounter, she sees more than she should have, including the moment of Sebastian’s greatest regret. He turned aside his secretary in favor of quenching carnal urges with a random widow, never to know what the man would have told him.
Sebastian has no idea how to deal with this woman who draws him with her upfront nature and her gift for seeing what others ignore. He should be offended. He’s been raised to the deference of everyone around him, but Eliza will have none of it, even going so far as to toss him out to the street when he attempts to impose his royal demands. Instead, he returns as much for her company as the insights she might hold, and that’s before he kisses her. Together and apart, they struggle with pieces and explore educated guesses to uncover what led to the death of the only one Sebastian’s been able to trust…until meeting Eliza.
In case you can’t tell, I very much enjoyed coming to know Crown Prince Sebastian and Eliza, a self-proclaimed spinster, along with the larger cast of interested parties. There is a touch of culture clash between Sebastian’s expectations and Eliza’s behavior, but also with Eliza’s position as her father’s assistant. Add in both amusing foibles and endearing moments to round off this Victorian tale.
The dry wit and commentary rather than a more active tone throughout is a perfect blend of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen despite a more modern presentation of open-door sex scenes. Even there, though, the narrative voice maintains a period feel while the content and wording are well within the lines of historical accuracy. The same is true for the squealing eagerness with which Eliza’s sister and best friend receive the hints Eliza shares about her early encounters with the prince, going far beyond the single meeting she’d sought to round out her quiet existence.
There’s a bit more clothing description than I prefer, but I found much of it amusing in how the clothes revealed the character of those wearing such and skimmed when not. Nor is the mystery given short shrift. There’s good seeding for the observant reader, and a few red herrings to lead you astray, while it serves to bring the main characters together until they have other reasons to drive them.
Sebastian might need to shed layers of arrogance, but Eliza has as many preconceptions before the romance comes together in a clever resolution that lives up to the idea of no obstacle too great with true love on the line. This treatment, with its focus on the people and their relationships rather than the horrid aspects of betrayal and murder, is exactly the tonic I was looking for when I selected this book. Julia London delivers it in spades.
P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.