Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review - Andrea Penrose's Sweet Revenge

Sweet Revenge (A Lady Arianna Regency Mystery Book 1) by Andrea Penrose
Published by: Obsidian
Publication Date: April 6th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Lady Arianna Hadley has returned to England from a life of poverty and strife in the West Indies where she has been fending for herself ever since her father was murdered years earlier. Yet she returns to England, not to reclaim her place in the ton, but to seek revenge on those who are responsible for her father's death. Posing as a male French Chef in a dubious yet aristocratic household, she is able to spy on those she plans to take down. Her plans go wildly awry when, upon eating one of her chocolaty confections, the Prince Regent ends up poisoned. Suspected of attempted regicide, she is soon under scrutiny by the Earl of Saybrook, Alessandro De Quincy, who has been assigned the case of the poisoning due to his knowledge of chocolate. Sandro quickly notices that "he" is a she, but an attempt on their lives and a murder soon throws them together.

Trying to work with each other, while not quite understanding or trusting the other, and therefore not believing in full disclosure, they slowly start to ferret out the truth. The lovely smells of cacao seem to be hiding a labyrinthine financial swindle, the likes of which have not been seen in years, the likes of which Arianna's father was involved in. Constructing an elaborate undercover operation, Arianna enters society as a wealthy widow and soon starts to put the puzzle together. But rakes and rogues are everywhere, and soon there are even more dead bodies. Will Arianna be able to sink to the depths she needs to in order to get her revenge? Or will she succumb to the lures offered to her in the pantomime she is living out?

This Regency romp by Andrea Penrose is sweet and frothy with a little bit o'spice, just like delicious hot cocoa done right. We have somewhat typical protagonists, with Sandro and Arianna, him being a grizzled war veteran addicted to opiates and her being the orphan girl trying to reclaim a semblance of life. Yet together they make each other better people, aw, Regency Romance indeed. The tropes aren't stale though because of the added lure of chocolaty confections and the two leads fierce intelligences. You don't get many mathematical geniuses who are female in Jane Austen now do you? Though, I think this book also demonstrates why you don't get mathematical geniuses in books too often, the jargon and the financial swindle where so confusing and detailed that it leaves you a little confused and feeling more than a little stupid, but that's just an aside. The spice here is the overused Hell Fire Club... ah, what I wouldn't give for Dashwood's Medmenham Abbey and their depravities, or offshoots thereof, to just take a break from literature. Why does it always go to Medmenham? It has become on of the most stale tropes. Luckily it was in the first book in this new series, so hopefully it won't return. Got that Andrea? No more Hell Fire. This goes for anyone else planing on writing about the Monks of Medmenham. Don't.

While the book is a quick fun read, it did have one major flaw, which is a cute gimmick, but at the beginning was a real hindrance and led to me struggling to get into the book. At the beginning of each chapter there is a little journal entry from Sandro's grandmother and a recipe. Now, the journal entry is fun and reflects the tone of the story, the recipe, not so much. This isn't because I don't want chocolate recipes, good God, I want as many as I can get, and many of these looked really tasty. The fact is, that they take you out of the story because of modern terminology. Having to read about setting an oven to 350 degrees makes the Regency feel a little less real. While I think it would be cool if the recipes could be written more Mrs. Beeton like, I think the olde tyme would drive people around the bend trying to update to modern cooking terms. SO how about just a nice selection of recipes at the back? They wouldn't pull you out of the story or distract you, and you'd still get all that chocolaty goodness. Mmm... chocolate.


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