The Accidental Bride

Almost Innocent

The Diamond Slipper

The Emerald Swan

The Hostage Bride

The Least Likely Bride

The Silver Rose

Valentine Wedding

Vanity

Vice

When You Wish

The Widow's Kiss

 
To Kiss A Spy by Jane Feather
(Bantam, $19.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-80172-4
*****
I just love historical romances which are tightly interwoven into the significant events of the past. I also enjoy romances that are set in different eras than the ever popular 19th century or the middle ages. Hence, To Kiss A Spy is clearly my kind of book. Set in 16th century England during the turbulent events that marked the end of the short reign of Edward VI, the book also has a compelling hero and a fascinating heroine. It is a very good story.

Owen díArcy is the king of Franceís master spy. He has been sent to England to serve his countryís interests. France wants to insure that England is not drawn into the ongoing wars on the side of her enemy, Spain. The situation is complex. Young King Edward is clearly sick and probably dying. The heiress presumptive to the throne is his oldest sister, Mary Tudor. It is important to the French cause that they know what Princess Mary thinks about the international situation. So the ambassador charges Owen with the task of seducing one of Maryís ladies in waiting, the widowed Penelope, Dowager Countess of Bryanston.

Owen sets out to approach Pen at a fete at her brother-in-lawís house. He sees her behaving strangely, slipping secretly into the library. What could she want there? He accosts the lady and steals a kiss but discovers that Pen is not impressed with his legendary seduction skills. When he subsequently helps her out of a dangerous situation, he discovers that Pen is a most unusual woman, that passion lies behind her seemingly prosaic exterior.

We know from the prologue that Penís life has been marked by tragedy. The young husband whom she loved deeply had died and she had delivered their child prematurely. Her mother-in-law informed Pen that the child was born dead, but Pen is convinced that she heard him cry. Hence her excursion into the library, to try to find some information about the events of two years ago.

No one in her own family had believed that she had delivered a live son and Owen is the one person who gives credence to her story. So Pen, knowing that he is a French spy for he admits as much to her, makes a bargain with him. She will in fact spy on her mistress if Owen will help her discover the truth. (I should point out that Penís agreement is not so heinous as it might seem. In the maelstrom of danger and betrayal that surround Mary, providing information about her possible intentions is a rather minor matter.)

Owen is a complex and compelling hero, dark and dangerous. He has spent his life in the murky and treacherous waters of espionage, at great cost to his personal happiness. Despite his profession, he is at heart a good and honorable man. Pen is also complex and compelling. Her determination to discover the truth about her sonís birth is rooted in her strong character. She is brave and intelligent, a woman who knows her own mind and who understands the consequences of her actions.

Make no mistake, the romance in To Kiss A Spy is first rate. Feather makes it quite clear how and why Pen and Owen fall in love and the barriers to their happy ending are realistically portrayed.

But what sets this book apart from most historical romances written today is how effectively the author uses the history of the times to enrich and enliven her story. As Edward lay slowly dying, Northumberland, the Grand Master of the Realm, is conspiring to hold onto power. The greatest threat to his ambition is the popularity of Princess Mary, the legitimate heiress. Thus, Mary and those who serve her like Pen are in grave danger from the dukeís machinations. The aura of suspense and danger that Feather creates makes her story much more compelling.

Pen is the daughter of the heroine of Featherís last book, The Widowís Kiss, but while this is a sequel, it stands alone very well. However, those who read and enjoyed the earlier book will appreciate becoming reacquainted with Penís stepbrother Robin, himself an apprentice spy; her sister, Pippa, now a lively young woman; and the hero and heroine of the previous story. I can only assume that Pippa and Robin will have their own books and I am looking forward to both with the greatest anticipation.

I originally had thought to give To Kiss A Spy four hearts because of some slight problems I had with certain aspects of the plot. But when I picked it up again to refresh my memory before writing this review, I found myself once more caught up in both the wonderful and touching romance of the spy and his lady and in the exciting events Feather describes so well. Hence I conclude that this book will remain on my keeper shelf for a long, long time.

--Jean Mason


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