Kate Noble, in her second book, goes for a bit more intrigue and some derring-do with a story about a former spy in the fight against Napoleon and the Queen of Society. I do have to mention that after reading Lynne Connolly’s post about class in historical romance, perhaps my view of this book has changed a bit, but it is a lively tale that keeps one turning the pages.
Mrs. Phillipa Benning is the nearly unrivaled leader of polite society in London. Her one rival is Lady Jane Cummings, though no one really knows why the two women don’t like each other. Phillipa, wanting to have all of society at her feet, wants to of course score the proposal of the season from the Marquis of Broughton. To gain his attention, she agrees to meet him in secret in a library at a ball where a romantic rendezvous is implied, though not promised.
Instead Phillippa stumbles upon another secret meeting between the head of the Home Office and one of his operatives, Marcus Worth. When the name, the Blue Raven is brought up in the conversation, Phillippa decides she is going to unmask the Blue Raven at what will then become the event of the season, the Benning Ball, which also happens to be one of the last major events of the season. She ends up gaining the cooperation of Marcus Worth in her plans with some help of her own in getting invitations to other major society events.
Marcus needs the invitations because he has suspicions of a plot made by an old enemy from the war to attack various society events. The purpose of the attacks is not known, nor has the villain shown his face, but Marcus has instincts that haven’t let him down and he knows he has to do something. As he works with Philippa he begins to worry for her safety, for as she proves valuable in finding the rival spy, she is also putting herself in danger and Marcus has realized he doesn’t want her hurt, for any reason, because of him. Nor does he want to let her go.
Phillippa is a character that is pretty much what she appears to be on the surface. She has a bit of a stand-offish demeanor from having most people in her life disappoint her or never pay over much attention to her, like her deceased husband and her mother. As such, she does what she likes and is not thought of less before it because she’s very wealthy and very intelligent. She hides her true smarts from society, but then she wouldn’t be the head of the fashionable world without using her intelligence to get her to her current position.
Marcus is happy with being on the fringes of society. When he’s forced to get invitations and become seen about town he does it with good humor and is able to see beyond Phillippa’s public image to her caring nature underneath. He’s very protective of her, as he sees Broughton as a popinjay and not good enough for her (which he is of course). What Marcus doesn’t like is being nearly on display for society, which he inevitably is when he’s on Phillippa’s arm. Marcus is used to working behind the scenes and not out for all the world to see.
While it is believable that these to characters could end up together, Phillippa never seems to grow past some of her selfishness and overconfidence in her abilities to get what she wants. She’s rather cruel at times to some secondary characters as she thinks that is befitting her position as a leader in society. That Marcus can break through that to get to her vulnerabilities underneath shows that she’s not (for lack of a better word) a bitch, she still holds herself a bit apart from others around her.
The spy storyline trying to sabotage events in society in the end didn’t come out to be wholly plausible, but it did provide the necessary elements to get the plot moving to the point of a sort of climax that forces the two characters to come together in the end. The story was well written enough to keep my interest, but this book wasn’t as good as Noble’s first, Compromised.
Phillippa Benning is the unrivaled beauty of the Season. But when another lady challenges her for a marquis’s attentions, Phillippa entices him to a secret rendezvous—only to stumble upon The Blue Raven, England’s most famous spy, lurking at the site of her planned tryst.
The Blue Raven has uncovered an enemy plot directed at upcoming society functions, but he’s unable to infiltrate London society. Phillippa makes an offer: in exchange for entrée among the ton, he agrees to have his true identity revealed at the Benning Ball—guaranteeing her unrivaled notoriety. As the danger draws closer, the mysterious spy and Phillippa give in to mutual desire. But when the game turns deadly, betrayal waits around the corner, and Phillippa must decide once and for all—is it the myth that captured her heart, or the man?
Read an excerpt.