September 2012, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $7.99, 371 pages, Amazon ASIN 0062025791 Part of a series
I'll admit that when I saw the title, Sins of a Virgin, my first thoughts went to the virgin widows and faux courtesans that seem to live in abundance in Romanceland, if not anywhere else. And as I started getting into the backstory, I wondered whether the spy heroine was going to be one of those fake tough women who is really just looking for an opportunity to gush sunshine and rainbows while she rescues urchins. No such thing. The characters in this book are the real deal, and this was a very entertaining adventure romance.
The book opens as Madeline Valdan and her friends receive their dismissal from the government, together with rather paltry lump sum payments by way of pensions. The three are all criminals rescued from the gallows and sent off to spy for the Crown during the recently ended Napoleonic wars. Given their histories, their ability to fit back in to society will be somewhat limited. Madeline, the heroine of this book, comes up with a brazen scheme to ensure her future security: She will auction off her virginity.
Prior to announcing her auction, Madeline used her pension payment to set herself up in Town and to ensure that she got herself seen by all the right gentlemen. Given her flirtatious antics, many doubt her virginity, but Madeline is beautiful and appears to be the consummate tease, so the men of London have no problem when it comes to bidding on her favors. Madeline plans to drum up interest and drive the price as high as possible, so she hires Bow Street Runner Gabriel Huntford to act as her bodyguard and also to investigate bidders to make sure they actually have the money to back up their bids. Gabriel finds Madeline's scheme abhorrent, but Madeline has a connection to a murder case he desperately wants to solve, so he takes the job. Along the way, threats to Madeline mount and Gabriel finds himself liking and protecting Madeline more than he had anticipated.
The real star in this novel is the adventure/suspense plot. The author throws so many threads of plot out there, and they are all tantalizing. We have the mysterious killings of women, including Gabriel's own sister, that he feels driven to investigate. And then there are the threats against Madeline herself. Add into the mix the antics surrounding the auction and Gabriel and Madeline's own secrets, and one finds that this story has plenty of meat to it. The resolution of the plot felt a little rushed and contrived, but still not entirely unsatisfying.
One other good point of this book lies with the heroine. The author doesn't have to tell us Madeline is strong; we see it. Madeline has tricks to get herself out of all kinds of fixes, and we see her using them. Sometimes she uses her beauty as a weapon, but her skills of observation and ability to gauge people are perhaps even more powerful. I didn't always like Madeline, but I respected her ability to survive and her way of trying to turn circumstances to her advantage. She's also not afraid to speak her mind, and though this is an extremely different book from The Siren, her sharp, frank way of speaking to Gabriel reminded me very much of Nora Sutherlin, down to her manner of purposely keeping him off balance from time to time.
That being said, readers should be aware that while there is plenty of romance in Sins of a Virgin, it's a bit more understated than one might expect. Madeline and Gabriel take their time warming up to one another, let alone falling into each other's arms. However, it all feels believable under the circumstances. In addition, the slow burn of the romance gives us plenty of time for scenes showcasing the power plays and repartee between the two.
It's not completely perfect, but this is still a very entertaining book. If you enjoy unusual characters or you like action and suspense in your romances, this is definitely one to try. It's first in a trilogy, and I definitely plan to pick up the next two books.
-- Lynn Spencer
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