In this story we meet Cassandra Merlin, who has just lost her father because he was considered a traitor and executed. Cass lives with her aunt but she knows she isn't truly welcomed so when Oliver Quinn shows up saying he works for the government and wants her help to uncover other traitors who might have worked with her father, she says yes, even though she is more blackmailed than asked for a favor. In the process, she is tested by Phillip Riordan, also a spy, and although he sees she isn't truly spy material, he can't help but liking her. However, something else is going on besides the possible hidden plot to kill the king and Phillip and Cass must do their best to avoid that while they also fall in love...
At first, it felt as if this would only be one more spy story, completely unlikely, while the focus would be on the romance. In part it is so, but I was actually surprised by the serious aspects used, especially the fact the whole spying issue wasn't as obvious as one would think. I also couldn't help thinking this story's style reminded me of another author and if I didn't know, I'd say this would have been written by that other author instead.
The plot is rather simple, it's the amount of elements the author added that made it feel busier and as if it was cluttered. Basically, Cass is used by Oliver and the government to do something under coercion and I couldn't help thinking that it would have been very easy for her to get out of this problem if only she had gone to another governmental representative, but then there would be no story...plus, a lot seemed to be advanced in the story - perhaps I should use the word "delayed" instead - by having the characters assume things and not really think them through. I suppose a lot can be explained, even nowadays, by our innate need to not go the extra mile isn't it?
I don't think it's any surprise that the plan to use Cass isn't as legal as it is made to sound and from a certain point on I believe any reader would have guessed something else is ongoing, hidden from most characters. I see what the author's intention was, but I can't say it fully worked out for me. However, it did allow Cass and Phillip to spend time together and to deal with one another in a way that, if things had been different, they wouldn't. I liked it enough how it felt as if they were slowly getting to like and trust each other's personalities the more they were together.
The romance is sort of slow, with a lot of unlikely scenes in the mix but I was actually rooting for Cass for it felt she had been dealt a bad hand and she had to make difficult decisions. I'd say that an annoying detail was how often they switched ideas and decisions. This made it look as if things were advancing, but if one strips down the unnecessary, then the plot is thinner than what one would see. Still, again, it made possible for Phillip to question his plans and why he is doing spy work when his heart isn't in it and his personality is more suitable for what he likes, being in the House doing legislation.
There is a point in the story where it feels things are going towards a happy place but since there were still so many pages left, of course problems come up again and I confess I find this tactic to be a bit annoying too, but it does enrich the characters' journey somehow. I think that, from that moment on, what was only hinted at and sort of captivating becomes a bit predictable. Since, by then, I was already taken by the characters and I wanted to see them get their HEA, it was still easy to keep reading but it is true I understand why it didn't really wow some readers.
One element I found appalling, however, was the characterization of the villain. Of course I'm certain that there are gay people who are just as awful as hetero ones, but the way this was used to make the villain even worse here seemed terribly unfair and unnecessary, I really think the author could and should have done this way better.
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