London's social season is in full swing, and the Victorian aristocracy can't stop whispering about a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. But he's not the only topic of wagging tongues. Drawing rooms, boudoirs, and ballrooms are abuzz with the latest news of an audacious cat burglar who has been making off with precious items that once belonged to the ill-fated queen.
Light gossip turns serious when the owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Emily. But the strong-minded and fiercely independent Emily will not be shaken. It will take all of her considerable wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, even as a brewing scandal threatens both her reputation and her romance with her late husband's best friend, the dashing Colin Hargreaves.
A Poisoned Season is a delicious blend of sparkling romance, heart-pounding suspense, and rich historical detail that only Tasha Alexander could create.
I had some expectations regarding book 2 of Lady Emily Ashton’s mysteries and I am happy to say that they were fulfilled.
After her love story with her husband in the first book, Lady Emily is now a widow whose main interest is to pursue her Greek studies, to help the British Museum to enlarge their collection of works of art, to spend some time with her chosen friends and to continue her relationship with Colin Hargreaves. I liked this Emily even more than the one in the first book. She is more self-assured, less influenced by others opinions but not naïve to think that she can do as she pleases without following the rules of polite society and understanding the power, and danger, of gossip.
I thought it interesting that the main plot was about a pretender to the throne of France. I could just imagine everyone trying to gain his good graces just in case the monarchy is restored and the Bourbons reclaim their birthright. While society is busy throwing balls in the honor of the supposed French heir, objects known to have belonged to the late Marie Antoinette are being stolen from their rightful owners. When one of the victims of those thefts is found murdered Lady Emily can’t resist starting to investigate. Soon she finds herself studying Marie Antoinette’s letters with as much interest as her Greek and she seems to have acquired a new admirer who keeps invading her house and leaving her little notes.
At the same time, one of Lady Emily’s friends is being forced to marry the supposed French heir, another wants her help with a make believe courtship so her parents will leave her alone, still another is having trouble in her marriage and Lady Emily’s mother is quite decided that she must marry again. All these entanglements lead to some vicious gossip that threatens to harm her place in society.
Besides enjoying Emily as a character, I also really enjoyed her relationship with Colin. He is not always present, in fact, one could say that he is always there when she needs him but he never overwhelms her or her investigations. He respects her intelligence and her resourcefulness and he is determined to woo her and marry her when she feels ready, not before.
I also like how Alexander manages to convey us to the Victorian world. Besides society’s behavior and moral codes, she introduces references like the Baedeker’s Guide, the Rosetta stone, and Thomas Cook & Sons that I found interesting and clever. Not to mention that she actually has Queen Victoria as a secondary character, there is nothing like tea with the queen to restore Lady Emily’s reputation!
The action does progress slowly but I thought that fitted the story very well, a more rushed story could not have such subtle or intellectual references or they would be lost. This was the right pace to appreciate all the details involved.
The mystery part was interesting and surprising but I think the book is mostly about Emily. How can we not enjoy a heroine who spends much of her time in libraries and who reads as much classical literature (Homer) and popular fiction (Mary Elizabeth Braddon) ?
Normally I try to say a little bit about the novel before I start talking about my reactions to it, but I am going to do the opposite this time, and start with saying what a great premise this novel has!
Marie Antoinette may have died during the French Revolution roughly a hundred years on, but her influence lives on. There have been a spate of robberies in London, targeting only those items that were previously owned by the late French queen - whether they be letters, jewels or other items. Surely it can be no coincidence that society is also buzzing about the arrival in their midst of Mr Charles Berry, who claims to be a direct descendant of the Dauphin, and therefore legitimately entitled to be the King of France. With the French republic a little shaky, Mr Berry is garnering as much support as he can from the highest echelons of British society, including to find a suitable bride before returning to France to claim his rightful place on the throne.
Lady Emily Ashton becomes involved in the case when her house guest has her earrings stolen, and yet nothing else of value in her home was taken during the robbery. When another robbery victim is encouraged to go the police, and then not long after is found dead, Lady Ashton can't bear to think that she may have hurried his death along by involving him. It turns out that the dead man has secrets that are waiting to be told after his death, and Emily is the one to try and uncover those secrets.
Along the way, some letters that were written by Marie Antoinette come into her possession, and she must try to decipher the code to find out exactly what did happen a hundred years before, and how that is affecting the current case that she is working on.
What I did love in this story was the relationship between Emily and Colin. There is no condescension towards Emily on Colin's part. He has belief in her abilities, and encourages her to be self sufficient, and yet is available if she needs him...and she does!
If you are looking for a hot and heavy romance between the two of these characters, then you will be disappointed, as the book is filled only with glances, the briefest of touches, and kisses on gloved hands. Colin Hargreaves wishes for Emily to marry him but he understands that Emily is an independent woman now, and that he therefore wishes for her to want to marry him on her own, not just because society dictates that she must marry again and soon. When even the Queen gets involved in her romantic affairs, that is a lot of pressure! The fact that Colin is determined to have a very proper courtship with Emily and therefore there are only the briefest moments between them is paramount in building up a palpable emotional tension within the novel.
What I wasn't so keen on was the number of other suitors that are drawn to Emily. We have a gentleman with an improper offer and a secret admirer who may or may not be dangerous to her and whose motives are somewhat twisted throughout the novel. In addition, society is all aghast that not only does Emily seem to have Colin Hargreaves courting her, she also seems to be having an affair with one of her childhood friends who is supposed to have an attachment to Emily's friend Margaret.
It is Emily's somewhat unusual intellectual habits as well as her romantic entanglements that see her on the very edge of ruination in the eyes of society. Between trying to stop her reputation from being irrevocably damaged, convincing several members of the gentry to hand over some invaluable ancient treasures to the British Museum, discover who the perpetrator(s) of several crimes were and to determine who her secret admirer really is, Emily is a very busy lady!
This was another very enjoyable novel by this author. The next novel, A Fatal Waltz comes out in June and I will definitely be trying to get hold of it as close to release date as possible. The first book in this series was And Only to Deceive, which was reviewed here.