Falcon’s Mistress by Donna Birdsell
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0425-20634-3
****
Perspective is everything. It is interesting to note that while a fledging nation was fighting for their independence, there was a whole group of people in England trying to keep them from attaining that right. Falcon’s Mistress is set in 1776 in England and centers around men who are trying to keep France and others from helping the new United States. The story has a unique, engaging feel to it.

John Markley is the Duke of Canby, but he doesn’t want to be. He would rather run with the falcons and enjoy life with the daughter of the estate’s falconer. Raised by parents who were less than loving, he grew up knowing happiness only when he was in the mews. It is no wonder that when given the opportunity to give up his peerage and become a permanent spy, he jumped at the chance. The fact that his mother convinced the falconer to betroth his daughter to another man cemented his decision. So he faked his death and headed to France to gather intelligence to help in America.

Several years have gone by. Selena Hewitt, the falconer’s daughter, is on trial for the murder of the Duke of Canby. No body has been found, but John’s clothes have been unearthed near the mews and she was in possession of his ducal ring (a ring he gave her but which no one believes). The Dowager Duchess is pushing the trial. If Selena is convicted of Canby’s murder, then her younger son Randolph can be named Duke. He has promised to pay off a man who is blackmailing her and who she hates.

John, now using the name “Jack Pearce,” hears about Selena’s trial and decides to return to England to break her out of Newgate. He still loves her and is determined she will not suffer for his plan. Of course, complications arise and he has to declare himself alive and still the Duke of Canby, thus breaking his disguise and possibly harming the mission.

The story revolves around Canby and Selena trying to have a loving relationship at a time when the peerage would not accept the relationship due to the differences in their status. It involves intrigue because the men hunting Pearce figure out he is connected to the Duke and they are determined to destroy the man who has foiled them. And there is the story about the Duke and his family trying to come to terms with his “resurrection.”

The tale moves along nicely, the villains are nasty and the threats seem real. Selena is a resilient heroine, taking whatever comes her way. She did love Canby and once she gets past her anger that he lied about his death, she finds she still loves him. She is willing to take him to her bed now because she is more realistic about their future. Canby still hopes to marry her.

Canby is a bit of a mystery. He is definitely Alpha when in the guise of the spy. Yet he seems to shrink when he is the duke, being a bit indecisive and worried about his mother to the point that she rules his actions.

The secondary characters are rather predictable, yet there are surprises too. Randolph particularly seems sissified one minute and strong the next. The primary contact for Canby in the spy ring is his cousin Ethan Gray. He is a rake and one that shows promise for a story of his own.

The setting is the late 1770’s but much of the tale reads like a Regency novel. This was a tad disconcerting. Other than one reference to women’s panniers, there was no real indication of the historical culture of the time.

The Falcon’s Mistress is a promising second novel for Birdsell. I will definitely be keeping an eye for her future tales.

--Shirley Lyons


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