I’m a fan of Jenny Holiday’s contemporary series, so I read this historical even though it had spies. Here’s something about me: I don’t do well with most intrigue plots in my historicals. I’m not familiar enough with the politics and wars of the time to feel like, “yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about,” so I don’t know what’s important to the plot or what’s just accurate window dressing. And, bottom line, I like regular ballroom scenes with wallflowers and ratafia and rogues, and I feel like some of the subtle connections get tossed out when the characters go chasing after bad guys. So, that’s me, and I’m sure I’m a minority.
Having said that, this is a historical where the heroine is a spy, and there is a bad guy, and there are secrets. Keep in mind my bias when I say that I didn’t get enough time with the lovers together, but the suspense and intrigue part worked out well.
Catharine is a widow with friends in various places, and she has agreed to pose as a courtesan in a brothel to pick up clues about French sympathizers. She wears a mask and a wig, is known as Lady V, and she only offers conversation to the gentlemen who pay for her time. It’s a pretty good gig for a whore.
James is a social reformer, working for one of those organizations with the really long names, and he steps into the brothel on an investigative mission. He pays for Lady V, but is pretty much tongue-tied when they’re alone together, because she’s very alluring.
It turns out that Catharine and James both care for the welfare of children. They meet outside of the brothel in a scene full of panic (on her part) and shocked revelation (on his part). Catharine can’t tell James that she’s a spy, but thanks to their magical and sexy connection, she gets him to take on a side mission to investigate some child workers at a gun factory.
There’s a lot of plot to deal with: Catharine’s past with her husband, her time in the brothel, James’s Society work, the spy network, details on how guns are made and inspected, and the plight of orphans. With all that ground to cover, Catharine and James don’t have many scenes together, and even fewer when her mask is off. But the rest is handled well enough that even I was caught up in how the story would unfold. I just didn’t get swoony enough about the romance.
This is the third (I think?) in a series, but the first that I’ve read, and I had no trouble following along. I have a feeling that the Earl of Blackstone, the spymaster, is a common character throughout the books. He had to visit the brothel to look out for Catharine, and I so want a story of him and Amelia the possibly-not-mean whore. I kind of wrote it in my head.
So, as a Regency with spies, this was a fine book with a narrow enough focus that the mission could be completed and the main characters could have their HEA. As I romance, I would have liked more of a slow burn with more casual encounters leading up to intimacy, because that’s just how I like them.
Grading just for the romance, I give it a B-
*ARC provided by publisher
Click to purchase: Amazon
Viscountess of Vice
by Jenny Holiday
Release Date: January 25, 2016