Wednesday, May 18, 2022

#TBRChallenge 2022: The Soldier's Rebel Lover

The Book: The Soldier's Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye

The Particulars: Historical Regency romance, 2015, Harlequin Historical #1253, Book 2 in duet, Out of print, Available in digital

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Besides the fact that this is an ARC I've had languishing for years?  Kaye's one of my autobuys in the HH line.

The Review: In hindsight I probably should have saved this one for next month's "After the War" theme, but I was up past my bedtime, having just finished a book, and went tripping back into the depths of my Kindle to find a languishing Harlequin Historical for "Tales of Old."  Having (finally) read the first book in the duet last summer, I thought why not finally read book two nearly a year later?

If you have mad love for the Regency era but are looking for something a little outside the usual Ingenue Bangs a Duke, run, don't walk, to find a copy of this one.  Major Finlay Urquhart is the rarest of unicorns - an officer in the British Army whose blood is nowhere near blue and - wait for it - he's Scottish. He's gotten as far as he has because he's very good at his job and has proven himself useful to the big man himself (yes, Wellington).  During the war he was in the Spanish countryside ferreting out a French munitions dump when he meets Isabella Romero.  Isabella is a member of the partisan Spanish resistance and is working with the elusive El Fantasma, a leader among the partisans who has been a useful ally to the British forces. They end up spending the night together (not like that - yet, anyway) and go their separate ways at dawn's early light.

Fast forward two years and Napoleon has been dispatched to Elba, Wellington's political ambitions are rising and he's concerned about El Fantasma coming back to haunt him. The man "knows" things that might not be political expedient for Wellington should they come out. On top of that, El Fantasma is not pleased with the Spanish government backsliding on personal liberties/rights post-war and is still printing pamphlets espousing "undesirable" rhetoric.  The Spanish government is looking for him and Wellington wants him before the Spanish can find him.  So he enlists the help of the hero from the fist book, Jack Trestain, to find The Ghost and bring him back to England.

Jack is in love (hello, first book) and he's not all that keen on Wellington's orders. So he goes to his most trusted friend, Finlay, to carry out the mission.  They're not disobeying Wellington's orders exactly - more like getting creative with the interpretation.  Anyway, Jack doesn't have much information to go on, but Finlay decides that tracking down the beguiling Isabella is a good place to start since she claimed to be in contact with El Fantasma when they met.  He suspects he'll find her family working in the vineyards of the wealthy Romero family, so he poses as a wine merchant.  What he didn't expect is that Isabella IS a Romero - her father having passed just after the war and her conservative brother now running the family business.

Of course they're both surprised to see each other again and their first meeting has to be kept a secret because Isabella's activities during the war cannot get out. I mean, her brother would die of a fit of apoplexy, never mind it would ruin her forever and ever (sure, it was war - but good Lord SHE'S A GIRL!).  But Isabella, she's a smart girl - and Jack's story about being a wine merchant just doesn't add up.  Besides that, it's pretty much lust at first sight.  These two crazy kids can't stop kissing each other, which gets exceedingly more complicated as the El Fantasma problem hits full boil.

Look, none of us are new romance readers here - you can probably guess where this is going.  What may surprise is that this is a fairly quiet story.  It's not action-packed, but more internal angst with the characters struggling with what they know has to be done versus what their hearts want.  I loved that while Isabella is passionate and her passions for her country ran high - once Jack really spells things out for her, the danger, the chickens coming home to roost, she doesn't dismiss him. What he says sinks in. She realizes, dear Lord, that he's right.  These are two characters who have lived through a war and those experiences have shaped them - it's made them very practical, smart and bright.  

Finlay is charming, intelligent, honorable and smitten from the jump.  He's a great hero and well-matched for the unconventional and passionate Isabella.  These two crazy kids, even with the seemingly insurmountable odds against them, you can't help rooting for them to get their happy ending.

A couple of quibbles, the story being quiet as it is with limited action sequences, the pacing did bog down for me at times (internal angst can do that) and the ending of the book was a little too mysterious for my liking.  Yes, there is a happy ending but it's not spelled out in great detail.  No Finlay making kissie faces or Isabella big with child.  Which, come to think of it, a lot you will probably love.  For me the proof is in the pudding, and I like happy endings spelled out in more detail.

This book does stand alone well even with Jack making a couple of small appearances.  It's a Regency era romance featuring a non-Duke hero with no terrible Almack's lemonade or ballroom in sight.  Well worth the time.

Final Grade = B


Jill said...

For "Tales of Old" I wanted a historical romance, but I also decided to go with a veteran romance writer, so AN IMPROPER ARRANGEMENT by Kasey Michaels. Regency with some sexiness but in a lot of ways it was a throwback to the lighter, fluffier side of traditional regencies with silly over the top side characters and not a lot of conflict. It wasn't perfect, but it was readable and I might get around to reading the rest of the series some day (not in a rush!). Kasey Michaels is a bit hit or miss with me, so I was just happy to read it and enjoy it.

Whiskeyinthejar said...

Hmmm, this one sounds good an officer in the British Army whose blood is nowhere near blue and - wait for it - he's Scottish. and Isabella is a member of the partisan Spanish resistance and is working with the elusive El Fantasma,.
I like quiet books but the internal angst and bogged down can get really slow for me. Grace Burrowes is usually my historical go-to for quiet but I think I have a couple other books by Kaye on the tbr because of Caz's reviews, so I think I'll add this one too because some of the things you mention.

Wendy said...

Jill: Yippee for finding a book you at least enjoyed, even if it didn't knock your socks completely off. These days I'm just happy to find a book that entertains me!

Whiskey: Kaye has been a remarkably consistent read for me, and this duet was really good.