The Exiles offers a compelling history lesson, but a far from compelling romance. Nita Abrams’ follow-up to her debut, A Question of Honor, will likely confuse readers who have not read the first book.
Elizabeth de Quincy is an English lass living in Vienna with a brutal uncle. She decides to run away, dressed as a boy, and try to make her way back to England. Unfortunately, she’s set upon by thieves in a Viennese alley, and loses all her money. A man comes to her rescue. He’s Michael Sommers, a fencing master. Sommers asks few questions, instead offering Elizabeth a position as his apprentice and apparently not seeing through her disguise.
Elizabeth is at a loss. Vienna in 1813 is a dangerous place to be, as the Napoleonic Wars wind down and the outcome is still unsure. Spies are everywhere, for all sides. Who can she trust? Sommers is as good as any, and since he keeps to himself, Elizabeth finds herself sharing quarters with him and still maintaining her disguise. Only she’s beginning to admire him more than she should.
Michael is a spy. He’s being pursued by a French enemy from his past, and Elizabeth saves him several times, though rather inadvertently. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, her disguise is revealed. Now Michael faces a difficult choice. He can’t abandon the woman who saved his life, so they make their way back to England together, falling in love along the way.
Except there is very little heat in this novel. Michael and Elizabeth exchange the merest of kisses, and the romance stops there. That would be fine if this were a short-format Regency, but at 382 pages, I bet readers will be disappointed.
The historical details are finely drawn and the setting has an authentic feel to it. One can’t fault the author’s efforts there. The “exiles” aspect is murky, however. Just what Michael and Elizabeth are exiled from is never made clear, and I read the first novel, too. The many references to people and events from the first book will leave readers shaking their heads if they haven’t read it. Add to this a huge cast of “spies” who spend a great deal of page time merely attending social events, and the book has wandered away from the romance premise altogether.
Michael and Elizabeth remained virtual strangers to me, too. The focus on external action, rather than the internal workings of these two, kept a distance between them and me. It’s a sham - I think they could have been interesting people to know.
Ultimately, The Exiles is a historical romance that’s almost exclusively historical. Nita Abrams has a great deal of talent; her prose is clean, intelligent, and she obviously knows how to do her research. If she can combine this with a genuine love story, she’ll have a winner on her hands. Unfortunately, this book isn’t it.