The Muses’ Salon, Book 3
Heat Factor: Sex happens abruptly; without the build up, it’s less hot than it should be
Character Chemistry: Insta-lust, plus oodles of resentment
Plot: Cloak and Dagger
Tempting the Earl features one of my favorite tropes: what I call “Seducing My Spouse,” or the case of a married couple finally figuring out that they’re actually in love after years of marriage. So there’s definitely a promising premise here.
However – and this is a HUGE however – this book suffers from an overabundance of plot. Like, there’s so much plot that I was frequently confused about what was going on and what people’s motivations were. Some mystery can be fun; too much mystery – well, if I wanted to read an intricately plotted mystery novel, I wouldn’t pick up a romance. Plus, half of the extra plot didn’t add to the mystery at all! Doubleplus, there were a bunch of references to characters and events in previous books in the series that were not adequately contextualized for someone (ie, me) jumping in in the middle of the series.
How much plot is there? Let me make a list:
- Olivia and Harrison were married six years ago, due to the machinations of Harrison’s father. Harrison was exceedingly unwilling; Olivia was basically cool with it. They had two weeks of passion, and then Harrison set off to join the war effort, leaving Olivia to manage his estate, which she has done with extreme competence. Even though the war has been over for years, Harrison still hasn’t returned home, so Olivia petitions him to have their marriage declared invalid. Harrison doesn’t necessarily like that idea, because he wants what he can no longer have. Obviously.
- Harrison is an agent for the Home Office and is investigating a possible leak in the government. Plus also trying to break a code.
- Olivia is a woman of many secrets:
- She is secretly the author of a best-selling gothic novel.
- She is secretly the author of an reformist newspaper column, which sometimes features leaked information. Harrison happens to want to identify said columnist in order to find the leaker. And also because the reformist column is making the anti-reformers in Parliament even more antsy.
- But Surprise! Olivia is ALSO an agent for the Home Office, who is writing the column specifically to try and identify English traitors.
- This work involves her gallivanting about London dressed in all kinds of costumes, and also singing on stage as a gypsy, for reasons. (Harrison propositions her to be his mistress, in an early comic scene of mistaken identity.)
- She married Harrison under an assumed name; at least two of her previous identities were declared dead in order to protect her safety.
- She doesn’t even know what her real name is. Her father was involved in some shenanigans and left when she was six years old. She is still trying to figure out what happened to him.
- It is entirely possible that their boss (of course they have the same boss) at the Home Office is working to set up a reconciliation between them because they are so obviously perfect for one another. Matchmaking spies to the rescue!
- Harrison is haunted by his dead family – both parents and all five of his siblings died at one time or another.
- There are some bad guys. Some of these bad guys work together. Maybe?
- A crazy woman, who is after Olivia.
- A well-dressed man and a thug, who warn Olivia off from searching for her father.
- Two denizens of the underworld, who want to identify An Honest Gentleman because they do traitorous stuff. And also want to get the code thing that Harrison is trying to break.
- There are a bunch of kooky old scholars who live at the estate now, and cause chaos in a lovable fashion.
- Some random women get together and start The Muses’ Salon. All of the women have skills, and will use them to help any woman in need that they meet. Presumably some of these women featured in previous books.
- Harrison doesn’t know how to manage an estate, but needs to learn if Olivia is really going to leave him.
- Harrison is convinced that Olivia is having an affair with the local parson.
- Did I mention that they are both secretly in love with each other, on the basis of a two-week acquaintance six years prior?
With all this other stuff going on – most of it of the cloak and dagger style spy thriller type – it’s a wonder that there’s any room for romance at all. And the thing is: there isn’t really. They have their first moment of reconciliation because Olivia is ordered to seduce Harrison to keep him off her trail. Which means that they are at odds, and all of a sudden Olivia is like, let’s have some sexy times, and Harrison is all for it and not at all suspicious because he is a bad spy, and then they bone, and then the boning is happening all the time. If that sounds abrupt, well, it is.
Look, here’s the thing. Miles is an engaging writer, and some of the individual scenes are quite well done. The opening scene, where Olivia is being followed through the streets of London by a man who happens to be her husband, is especially good. If you want to give her a try, I would suggest starting at the beginning of the series (Jilting the Duke), so that at least you won’t be confused about who all these extra characters are.
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