In the time of Napoleon’s exile on Elba, there is a growing sense of unease; a fear of a second war, should the emperor escape. It is during this tense phase that Anne Cleeland’s novel, Tainted Angel, takes place. Gold is going missing in both France and England. England’s economic stability rests in the hands of one man, who owns far too many government-issued bonds. And it is the task of the lovely spy, Vidia, to keep track of this man.
However, when she finds herself surprisingly (and not unpleasantly) seduced by her fellow spy, Lucien Carstairs, it becomes blatantly evident that her employer has begun to question her loyalty. She quickly ascertains that Carstairs’ primary motivation is the ferreting out of her every secret. What she’s unable to determine at the outset, however, is whether Carstairs also has true feelings for her. Unfortunately, she can’t adequately explore the depths of those feelings when, at any moment, he might be handing her over to the hangman.
What ensues is a complex plot full of twists and lies and romance. The beginning felt mired down in unanswered questions and it took what I considered to be too long getting going. I was probably a third of the way through the book when I finally felt I had a firm understanding of the characters and story line. In the end, though, it all made sense. Everything comes together nicely and you wind up with a very clear, vivid picture of what was going on. I would have preferred to know a few more things up front, though. Such as whether or not I could trust Vidia or Carstairs. With Vidia, I wasn’t certain, for a while, whether she was a heroine or an anti-heroine.
The characters were well developed. The author created rich and detailed histories for them all of which were given to us through brief, entertaining references and anecdotes. There weren’t any long, dull back stories.
Tainted Angel is a historical fiction. The author, in her dedication, refers to it as Regency Adventure. This is all well and good, but I would say the romance thread drove this novel just as much as the plot. So I’m not sure what tipped this into the general fiction category, unless it’s the lack of graphic description in the love scenes. Anyhow, if you absolutely don’t enjoy romance, you’ll likely not enjoy this book.
There was a lot I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the duplicity in all the characters. The humor. The willingness on Vidia’s part to forgive being double-crossed, time and time again. The fact that she uses terms like double-cross, twigged (being found out), and grass (to tattle). Her willingness to follow her heart with her eyes open to reality. Her self-deprecation at her foolishness for following her heart in spite of reality. And the way everything comes together in the end.
I enjoyed this novel. The more it percolates in my mind, the more I’m pleased with it. But it was definitely slow going in the beginning. Fortunately, Vidia’s personality and her interest in Carstairs carry that part of the novel. So I think it’s worth a read, especially if you enjoy Regency era romance and adventure.
My favorite quote: “It is beyond vexing, she thought in annoyance as she slid between the silken sheets in her chemise–she couldn’t even have a warm night with a willing man without international repercussions.”
A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.