1815. Six years after her husband’s presumed death, half-French Marie-Ange is living in straitened circumstances in Devon. Possible financial succour arrives when the dashing Capitaine Hugo Saintclair comes to escort her to France to claim a legacy from a relative-by-marriage, the sinister Malleval. But all is not as it seems, particularly as Marie-Ange spots a familiar figure in Paris.
This is a Gothic novel in the style of Ann Radcliffe, albeit with more explicit sex scenes. Supernatural elements are given plausible explanations (or are they?), allowing readers to make up their own minds. Like the heroines of the ‘horrid novels’ satirised in Northanger Abbey, Marie-Ange is so beautiful that virtually every man she meets wants to rape her and she has a propensity for being knocked unconscious at critical moments.
There is plenty of action – so much so, that it eventually became too much for me. As so often in books of this genre, I got the impression the hero and heroine would get together much quicker (or at least part on better terms) if, a) the heroine explained her motives, and b) the hero tried to see the situation from her point of view.
There are some lapses in etiquette: would a lady really travel without a maid? Would servants at an inn really expect guests to light their own fires? Would a gallant man really climb a ladder first, instead of allowing a lady to go ahead so he could break her fall if she slipped? Attitudes to illegitimacy and extra-marital sex seem rather modern (but then, the French have always been more relaxed about such things). 1815 is too early for safety matches and chloroform (or any other form of general anaesthetic, apart from opium or gin). Recommended to those who like a thrilling read without too much introspection.