Friday, July 1, 2022

Book Review - Andrea Penrose's Sweet Revenge

Sweet Revenge 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. Sadly one of the men has already succumbed to an accident, but that still leaves her one target, Lord Concord. Posing as a male French Chef in a dubious yet well healed household she is able to spy on those she plans to take down. Lady Spencer is very chatty with her cook and Arianna learns much from the Prince Regent's current mistress. But Arianna's plans go horribly awry when, upon eating one of her chocolaty confections, some of the first edible chocolate, the Prince Regent ends up ill. He has been 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 resulting in the death of their assailant 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, at least on Arianna's part, 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 generations, the likes of which Arianna's father was known to be involved in. Constructing an elaborate undercover operation, Arianna enters society as a wealthy merry widow and soon starts to put the puzzle together by courting Lord Concord whose new Hellfire Club is all the rage with his set. 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. The outward appearance of this book might lead you to think it's on the cozy spectrum, but it is decidedly not. What with the Hellfire Club and the coarse language, these cajones aren't for everyone but they add that little bit of spice that sets Sweet Revenge apart from the stacked Regency crowd. Yes, 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 her old life while also helping him heal. 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 intelligence. 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, or perhaps that's just me and my inability to understand the South Sea Bubble of 1720. I want to understand, I just apparently can't. I do know that it's very bad and people lost money, so I got the gist. While the book is a fun quick read, it did have one major flaw; the gimmick of the recipes. An all too common gimmick in mysteries at the time Sweet Revenge was released. 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 long time ago. 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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