I loved the first book in this series, Abigail, and immediately plunged into this one, which featured one of the intriguing side characters from the first book. Sadly, it is nothing like as resounding a success as the first one. Large parts of the plot are, not to put too fine a point on it, a hot mess.
Here’s the premise: Belinda is the epitome of a poor relation. She’s passed around from one branch of the family to another, as she might be useful. Eventually, she washes up in London, at the home of elderly Millicent Anstruther, to whom Belinda is to act as companion. Millicent, we are given to understand, is a dragon, who chews up companions and spits them out.
And here is the first of several problems. Millicent is a little brusque, but she’s never less than kind to Belinda. She gives her light secretarial duties, fits her out in stylish clothes and takes her along to every grand society event. The hostile person in the family is Millicent’s niece Fleur, who fits neatly into the spoilt, wilful but beautiful debutante category. She treats Belinda as a servant and is unfailingly rude to her. Millicent, the supposed dragon, ticks her off for these insults, of course, pointing out that Belinda is family.
The central plot revolves around a collection of archaeological artifacts, which Fleur and scholar Edward Fortescue, a friend of Belinda’s from book 1, are cataloguing. This is where everything unravels, because very little of this made much sense to me. I found it impossible to believe that the honour of the family hinged entirely on the collection, and there were so many coincidences and lucky breaks as to defy credibility. I’m still not sure who set the fires, or what became of the visits to His Grace and the Earl, which Millicent’s brothers were to undertake. Nor could I believe for one moment that spoilt, selfish Fleur, surrounded by titled suitors, would run away with a penniless man. Hot mess, the whole lot of it.
And here’s a complaint that I don’t often have to make these days — this book was riddled with typos. Not so much spelling errors, but missing or extraneous words, poor punctuation and even a wrong name (Millicent is called Mildred at one point). This is so disappointing, because the first book was very much cleaner in this respect, and it’s so sad when a fine writer’s work is let down in this way.
But the main romance was lovely. The hero was a delightful character that I was rooting for all the way, Belinda’s growing feelings were perfectly understandable and the misunderstandings between them actually made some sense. All their scenes shimmered with romantic fairy dust, even when Belinda herself wasn’t aware of it, there was no gratuitous sex scene this time (unlike the first book), and the ending was delightful. So, despite the hot mess (which may just be my brain not working well) and the typos, I’m going to give this three stars and hope for better in book 3, Cecily.