|Brenda Hiatt: Innocent Passions|
Avon (Paperback), ISBN 0-06-050758-6
After coming into her inheritance, Rowena Riverstone finally comes to London to visit her best friend Pearl (now better known as Lady Hardwyck). Rowena's passionate thirst for knowledge and politics led first her late father, then her brother to prevent her from coming to town. And that was before she began writing seditious essays under the pseudonym "MRR." But now that she controls her own funds, off she goes.
While in London, Rowena seeks out interesting political discussions, not the fancy frippery of Society and its balls and parties. However, Pearl determines that Rowena must take part in some of the frivolity, and Rowena agrees, although with a hint of hesitation.
Noel Paxton, who served as the famed spy "Puss in Boots" in Napoleon's France, now seeks the Black Bishop, a double agent responsible for the deaths of many Englishmen, including some of Noel's friends. As a cover story, Noel claims to be hunting down the Saint of Seven Dials, a Robin Hood-like thief. In reality he acts as the latest incarnation of the Saint.
Noel inherited the role from Lord Hardwick. While spending time at Hardwyck Hall, Noel finds himself drawn to the bookish and outspoken Rowena, even as he tries to get information out of her. He thinks she might know the identity of MRR, whom he suspects may be connected with the Black Bishop. But when Pearl starts working on Rowena's image, suspicion takes a back seat to attraction.
Unfortunately, Rowena's politics get in the way of the pair's romantic progress. She idolizes Lester Richards, whose radical political ideals match hers more closely than the more conservative ones Noel professes (though he doesn't truly believe in them). She also criticizes Noel for hunting down the Saint of the Seven Dials. Rowena believes the Saint fulfills an important role as a defender of the lower classes. Soon Richards becomes more of a problem than a mere romantic rival.
Brenda Hiatt creates strong characters, full of fire and foibles. Rowena's struggle to balance her ideals of equality with the novelty of suitors and new clothes particularly illustrates this. However, Hiatt lets the many nuances of political intrigue drag the tale down somewhat. She adds too many players to the chessboard, and some resemble others so closely that telling them apart becomes difficult at times. Overall an engaging read, but one that takes a bit of work to get engrossed in.
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