This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Released on March 4, 2014
I love fairy tale retellings of all sorts so I eagerly grabbed up this one that tells the story of a Regency era Cinderella and her secretive Prince Charming. This was a first time with the author for me too.
While this is the second book in the Tricks of the Ton series, it can be read out of order because it is more of a parallel story to the first one.
Holden Ellis, Lord Steelings, has recently returned to England and he seeks out his Uncle, Aunt and cousins to enjoy being home from abroad and being with family. They are a warm, rowdy bunch and he is pleased to escort them to the social functions of the Season. They are the closest thing to family he has nowadays since he and his father don’t speak, his brother is dead and his mother is hidden, locked away and thought to be dead so none will know that she is mad. He reluctantly agrees to attend their country house masquerade ball where maybe he can get up an intrigue with a willing beauty who isn’t interested in snaring a husband.
Sue Green, plain and nearly on the shelf, lets her vivacious younger sister and twin cousins talk her into a new caper. They all dress in costumes and sneak into the neighbor’s masquerade ball. They further coerce her into imbibing copious amounts of champagne and letting them alter her conservative costume to one that smacks of the demimonde. This leads to that moment when her high kicking dance move on the stairs nearly breaks the nose of one of the Ton’s most handsome and eligible bachelors. Her sister and cousins run leaving her to apologize and help Lord Steelings to his room. After a brief time of pain, Lord Steelings is enchanted by her and she by him. During their playful, flirtatious encounter from behind the protection of her mask, she tells him she is Suzanna and for one night becomes that enchanting creature she has made up. They share a passionate unforgettable moment then return to the ball to share a dance before she is discovered and restored to her original appearance by her mother while Holden is fetching drinks and whisked away from the ball. Unfortunately her dreamy night is brought to a sad close when Holden encounters her outside her costume and pushes her aside not even recognizing her in his search for a woman who doesn’t even exist. Her furious mother lays down Sue’s grim future. She has the rest of the Season to find a husband or get shipped off to Scotland to become a crotchety old aunt’s companion. It doesn’t help to know that her lovely and slightly spoiled sister and mother’s pet, Evangeline, is mother’s choice for Lord Steelings.
Holden is determined to find Suzanna. He has never felt like this before for a woman and it all has the added allure of mystery because nobody will tell him much about her even her sneaky twin cousins that he tracks down. They promise him that she will be at a certain ball. Yet all he encounters there is a brush with prickly and plain Sue Green who as a slight resemblance to Suzanna. She too knows Suzanna, but won’t do more than indicate where Suzanna will be. In the meantime, his mad mother has escaped and has come to him. He doesn’t see her as very dangerous and takes pity on her by allowing her to stay with him. He does go in fear that she will make the family secrets known in the upper circles of society and cause a family scandal so he begs her to stay in his house. He’ll put her in another place eventually, but for now he just wants to get to know her.
Sue is both repelled and attracted to Holden. It hurts terribly that he doesn’t recognize her as Suzanna and yet she looks forward to each new encounter with him. She feels a little sorry for him to see her mother fawning over him and pushing her reluctant sister at him. Holden avoids the obvious matchmaking traps and she is slightly confused that he has started seeking her out in her own right. It’s probably because he appreciates talking to her about art since he has bought most of her paintings though he thinks they’re by Suzanna. She resists her attraction to him and knows she must tell him the truth, but fears his disgust and withdrawal.
Things come to a head with some interesting turns and a dangerous moment leaving everything in the balance. Secrets are blown into the open and everyone is left in shock and not just a little hurt in some cases. Love just might not be enough.
This one started out being a light, comedic romp that cleverly captured the Cinderella story while weaving in the author’s own characters, dialogue, plotting, and tones. The mother made me laugh because she is over the top in her efforts to pursue Holden for Evangeline and fit in with Society. She’s very cutting with her words to Sue, but she’s just so ridiculous that it’s hard to take her seriously. Evangeline is not really the cruel, selfish sister of the fairytale. She is young, worried about her debut season and cowed by their mother. She let’s Sue take the blame for stuff and won’t stand up to their mother, but she is not deliberately mean. The twins are just a scream. I cracked up over their escapades and the way they led poor Holden on such a merry chase. Holden’s family particularly his younger girl cousins were a hoot too.
Suzanna was a worthy heroine to root for and made a great underdog. She’s plain, chatty, sensible, artistic, compassionate, and has a sense of adventure that shows when she leaps out and does out of character things.
Holden was a hero that, while I can sympathize with some of his plight, I wasn’t completely into him. I wasn’t too upset that he didn’t recognize Sue because I’m not sure I would have either. A drunken carefree demeanor covered in make-up in a scandalous costume in a candlelit room is not the same as a plain miss scrubbed of cosmetics in a conservative gown. And I also understood his need for secrecy (I mean nothing clears a social calendar like having a mad, murderous mother in the background), but it was the way he eventually pursued Sue and then just seemed to want to dabble with her that disappointed me. Granted, he finally got with it and pursued in earnest which redeemed him a bit.
While the story started out light, I found that plot line of the mad, homicidal mother really ripped a jarring tear through the whole fabric of the story. Unfortunately, this darker, serious issue and the seeming callousness of the family toward this woman was hard for me to marry with the other lighter romantic story line. I wish it hadn’t been included to speak truth since the story would have held together offering plenty of conflict without it or should I say a different type of conflict might have fit better with the tone.
All in all, I was pleased to read it and I definitely want to go back for the first book since I kept getting tantalizing glimpses of their story as it crossed over with this one. Holden and Sue’s exchanges were a bright and strong draw to this book. I think those who enjoy lighter Historical Romance should seek this one out.
My thanks to Sourcebooks and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this one in exchange for my honest review thoughts.