Lady Clara Stanbourne has established a Home for the Reformation of Pickpockets. Clara is seriously committed to claiming youthful pickpockets from the streets of Spitalfields, a destitute section of London, and leading them into a legal and moral lifestyle. Other heroines might play at being socially conscientious; Clara is truly dedicated. She is older (twenty-eight, a true spinster by Regency standards) and is content with her life away from the activities of society.
To Clara’s horror, a shop opens near her Home. Observing one of her charges trying to sell the owner a watch, she realizes that the shop is merely a subterfuge - it is really the place of business of a fence for stolen goods. She challenges the owner, Captain Morgan Pryce, hoping to convince him to move, but he is firm in his opposition. To Clara’s dismay, she finds herself attracted to the blackguard as he is to her.
Morgan (a secondary character in earlier books by the author) is not the villainous character that Clara takes him for. In fact, he’s there acting as an agent for the government investigating the notorious Specter, whose sale of stolen bank notes is hurting the British economy. Morgan has agreed to assist in this operation in return for being awarded a ship under his command. Separated from his twin (the hero of After the Abduction) and aristocratic father at a young age and raised in wretched conditions by his mother, Morgan suffers from self-hatred and cannot envision the ordinary life of family and home on land for himself.
He resists Clara’s efforts to evict him from the Home’s neighborhood, but quite against his will he is gradually won over by her generous personality as well as the characters she has rescued from a life of crime. Soon he’ll be torn between his duty to country and crown and his growing affection for Clara and hers for him.
The main characters of Dance of Seduction are most appealing, but the plot seems to be suffering an identity crisis. Is it a plot about unmasking an arch-criminal? redemption of a wounded hero? introduction of the do-gooder heroine to the pleasures of the flesh? the rescue of disadvantaged children? insight into the seamy underside of nineteenth century London? Certainly it’s possible for a plot to be all these things, but this plot lacks focus as it swerves from one perspective to another. Similarly, the narrative seems uncertain in tone. Some of it is light and amusing; some of it is dark and tormented. Since the book never really settles into a definite pattern, there’s a lack of coherence that weakens what might have been a stronger story.
What Dance of Seduction does have is a lively spirit. This is no morality tale of virtue meets vice. Rather, beneath Clara’s respectable appearance lives a passionate woman who won’t take no for an answer. In fact, there is a distinct impression that the author started her story one way but Clara ran away with it.
Most of the poor waifs she rescues don’t play much of a role in the story. A few glimpses into their life (think of the musical Oliver!) are sufficient to demonstrate that Clara is doing good work with poor victims of circumstance. There are three reclaimed pickpockets who represent the unseen others and who play a greater role in the plot. Furthermore, the mystery subplot is little more than excuse to put Clara and Morgan in close proximity. For much of the action, it seems that Morgan has pretty much forgotten why he’s even there. I figured out the identity of the Specter soon after being introduced to him, and I expect most other readers will.
Dance of Seduction is related to several of the author’s previous books, and characters from other books do play roles in this one. It stands well enough by its own, however, that being unfamiliar with the previous books shouldn’t be a problem.
While there’s a lack of overall cohesiveness to Dance of Seduction, there are enough positive features about the lively characters that readers might find this a good choice.