From the desk of Debbie Brown:
Set in 1817 Regency England, Dangerous Alliance has a teen-aged heroine who is a devotee of Jane Austen’s first published novels. As her childhood playmate Tom Sherborne observes: “She was still very much like the girl he remembered who’d believed in fairy stories, except now she believed in the novels of some Miss Austen. … Did she have any idea how fanciful she sounded? How naive? How would she ever survive in the cruel world with such notions?”
In the first chapter, Vicky is attacked by a masked assailant who’s prevented from delivering a killing blow by Tom’s fortuitous arrival. (More about Tom later.) “Just because sensational events happen in novels, that doesn’t mean they cannot happen. And just because ordinary events occur during the majority of one’s life, that doesn’t stop the unexpected from happening at a moment’s notice.” Rather than leaving all the heroics to Tom, Vicky takes off on her horse in pursuit of the villain. Indeed, whenever Vicky’s life is at risk, she’s an active participant in saving herself.
Vicky’s independent spirit becomes an issue when a family crisis necessitates that she marry as soon as possible. (More about the “family crisis” later, too.) She’s not enthusiastic and for good reason. “Most of the gentlemen she’d met were decidedly narrow-minded when it came to females interfering in what they considered the male sphere.” Very reluctantly, Vicky agrees to put herself forward in the London marriage mart and settle for a suitable husband rather than waiting to fall in love. Before long, both Mr. Silby and Mr. Carmichael are frequent callers.
Tom Sherborne is the book’s other protagonist, with the story told alternately from his point of view and Vicky’s. A year ago, his father died and Tom reluctantly returned to his childhood home after having been banished for the last years of Lord Halworth’s life. Aside from the neighboring Astons, Tom has only miserable remembrances about his family estate. Until their dramatic encounter, he and Vicky hadn’t seen each other since his return, and things are awkward between them.
Vicky was “…not at all certain she liked this new Tom. He was guarded, cautious, and it seemed not altogether honest.” What she doesn’t know is that the Sherbornes’ finances are a shambles, and Tom’s spendthrift younger brother Charles is no help. As the new Lord Halworth, Tom hopes to save his family holdings by establishing a European-style hotel in London, and he goes there to seek investors. With his current financial worries, Tom is in no position to marry and therefore fights his attraction to Vicky.
Fate intercedes and the two keep crossing paths in London. Meanwhile, Mr. Silby calls frequently despite Vicky’s decided lack of interest. She feels more attracted to Mr. Carmichael, and her father has a high opinion of him, but Vicky is frustrated by Carmichael’s lack of giving straight answers, which is also true of Tom.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Vicky’s life is in danger. Who’s behind it all? Why? Tom can’t help worrying that perhaps Carmichael is the source of her troubles. Considering how conveniently Tom appears when one of Vicky’s “accidents” happens, Carmichael accuses him of the same. The reader knows Tom is innocent, but what should we think about Carmichael?
I’m impressed at how tastefully the humorous content counterbalances weighty issues raised in the story, such as domestic violence and the relative powerlessness of women during this era. Vicky’s older sister Althea (likened to Austen’s Jane Bennet) has been abused by her husband, Lord Dain, and seeks refuge with her parents. It’s sobering to read how limited the best possible legal outcome is in Althea’s situation and how difficult it will be to achieve it, even though she’s the daughter of an influential earl. Thus, as their father Lord Oakbridge explains to Vicky, “If something should happen to me, and we do not win the suit for Althea’s separation, the estate will fall into Dain’s hands. Now that we know Dain for what he is, we cannot allow him to gain control of Oakbridge if you remain unmarried.”
Unfortunately, I felt the explanation for the mystery to be unsatisfying. We learn who the major villain and co-conspirators are, but Vicky’s first attacker is never explicitly identified. Perhaps he was just a hired mercenary, but I still wanted to know that he’d been dealt with. And one of the bad guys is supposedly a good guy who played along only to spy on the others, which defies logic. The plot against the heroes progresses way too far before he finally steps in. This could be explained if he had a last-second change of heart, but he states that he never intended to follow through with his part of the plot. Why didn’t he warn the others?
Despite that quibble, Dangerous Alliance is a very entertaining read. There’s lots of action, and the writing offers authentic Regency details only a dedicated researcher could provide. Vicky and Tom have believable strengths and flaws, making them easy to like. I won’t give away the ending, but I really love that it sends a strong, positive message about how to approach marriage.
Life really isn’t like your typical romance novel. Fortunately, this book isn’t one of those.
4 out of 5 Stars
Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance, by Jennieke Cohen
Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (448) pages
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Cover image courtesy of HarperTeen © 2019; text Debbie Brown © 2019, Austenprose.com