Genre: Historical Romance (17th century – 1666)
It is 1666 – the year when people who take prophecy seriously believe that the world is going to end.
For Chloe Herveaux – twenty years old, half-French and practical – marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, it is a refuge of a different kind. But while the marriage remains in name only and both, for reasons of their own, agree to seek an annulment, other forces are gathering.
England is once again at war with the Dutch and Prince Rupert, now commanding the Royal Navy, suspects that sabotage is at work within the fleet. Instructed to find the arch-traitor, Alex enters a dark labyrinth of intrigue – where no life is safe and nothing is what it seems.
Chloe, meanwhile, navigates the malice and scandal of Charles 11’s licentious Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the surprising facets of Mr Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed to her, the long-awaited annulment becomes a double-edged sword.
Absorbed in his search for a traitor, Alex spares little thought for his bride – until a hot June night on the Falcon Stairs when he and Chloe stand united by tragedy.
As the flames of the Great Fire sweep over London, Alex and Chloe face their ultimate test. Their world is at risk … their choices may save it.
I’m delighted to have been pointed in the direction of Stella Riley by one of her biggest fans, and now I’m going to be on a SR binge as she has a lovely long, re-published list available on kindle. Any writer who can keep me awake into the early hours is worthy of great respect. How on earth did I miss her the first time around?
Alex Deveril – who by the way is utterly gorgeous – is out on a drinking spree one night, having been rejected by the woman he believes he loves. He and Chloe Herveaux end up married in less than auspicious circumstances. In the cold light of day, Chloe is convinced that she has taken unfair advantage of Alex in her haste to escape the household of her step brother. She reluctantly comes to the conclusion that she should have refused his drunken proposal, no matter how enticing the prospect. They discuss the matter and decide that eventually they will pursue an annulment; however, neither is in a hurry, so for the time being their marriage-in-name-only, suits both of them.
It is 1666, England is still recovering from the austere life imposed by Cromwell. Charles II is on the throne and again the Country is at war, this time with the Dutch. I know little of this period in our history but Stella Riley has now piqued my interest. She writes eloquently and with great knowledge, and her extensive research and love of her subject is obvious in the captivating and confident way in which she tells her story.
Alex Deveril is a complex character. He has been a soldier for the past 15 years yet still only 30 – imagine that? He was a boy yet he fought like a man, alongside men, and earned their respect. It is a hardly believable phenomenon that a youth, little more than a child, could achieve such distinction…yet such were the times. He can be charming when he chooses but is also reckless, unpredictable and wild, and is always up for the most outrageous escapades. A series of events outside of Alex’s control have left him bitter, cold and acerbic, at least on the outside. He has a close group of friends who, on the whole, forgive him his digressions and ignore his biting sarcasm. Alex appears unable to stop pushing those closest to him away and this includes Chloe. Despite this, she is very attracted to him and has been since their first meeting. She knows she mustn’t let this show if she is to avoid derision, but more importantly not to make him feel trapped.
Stella Riley has a tremendous talent for developing her cast of characters into loving, breathing beings. I was thoroughly entertained by the way the young and innocent Chloe had the men in Alex’s circle completely enamoured and protective of her in no time. Chloe achieves this without use of guile or affectation – just by being herself. The only man unaffected, it seems, is Alex. Ms. Riley grows the relationship between the two in very slow degrees; they become friends, and in time, confidantes. Alex soon comes to realise that Chloe is intelligent and undemanding and so he begins to trust her and seek her council. She, very astutely, gets his measure and goes to some lengths to bring about a reconciliation between Alex and his close friend Giles, after one of the former’s particularly cutting remarks causes a rift between them. She achieves this in a risky and humorous way, reluctantly earning Alex’s respect. On another occasion, she takes steps to stop Alex doing something she is convinced he will later regret. Again, he is less annoyed than she expects him to be with her unconventional methods.
Despite the fact that Alex has many flaws of which he is well aware but unrepentant, he is highly intelligent, loyal, ingenious and discerning and also respected for his previously proven military prowess by Prince Rupert, cousin to King Charles and Commander of the Naval Fleet. Together with his friend Giles Beckworth, he is contracted to covertly search for a traitor in their midst, who is costing the British Navy ships and lives. This wonderfully meaty tale just gets better as the two, along with Matt, Alex’s trusted retainer, start their search and by a series of clever eliminations, a fair amount of deviousness, smart code breaking on Alex’s part, and some unwitting help from Chloe, finally get their man.
Stella Riley covers so much in this feast of a tale – a snapshot of the tactics and horror of death and injury on board his Majesty’s ships during wartime; the Great Fire of London, where we see through her eyes, the cramped wooden buildings in their narrow lanes, the fire eating it’s way relentlessly through London and the despair of her inhabitants as they fight fruitlessly to save their homes; then the final devastating toppling of St. Paul’s. There is also the licentious, gluttonous and fashion-obsessed court of the womanising but shrewd and enigmatic Charles II, and the despair of his wife as he flaunts his mistresses – all brought so vibrantly to life by this talented author.
For me though, the intensely beautiful love story between the delectable Alex and the endearing Chloe tops all. It’s almost non-existent to begin with but then develops so slowly, it creeps up on the reader in the most deliciously romantic way. Alex’s constant quoting that had me googling and thinking ‘oh that’s so lovely’; their camaraderie, which at times borders on the hilarious, so well did they interact and understand each other; Alex’s eventual realisation of his love and then his attempts to convince Chloe of it were sooooo!!! … words just fail me!
This was a wonderful first for me by novelist/historian, Stella Riley. I absolutely adored it and, for anyone out there who knows little about this period in our history, I cannot recommend a more entertaining or better way to learn! An unmissable Stellar 5 stars!
REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STELLAR STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: WARM