The strapline of this book is: ‘What if Napoleon, instead of Wellington, had won the Battle of Waterloo?’ Well, apparently Napoleon continues in his conquests and sends his brother Jerome and his ex-Empress Josephine to England, which is seething with underground societies, all wanting to get rid of the French, but otherwise with different political agendas.
The hero, Lord Lamorna, known as Crow, haunted by his failure to reach Wellington in time at Waterloo with a vital message, is now a spy playing a double game. Other characters have different allegiances. The heroine, Hester Harewood, daughter of a black navy captain and a white English aristocrat, is in mourning for her father, killed by the French, who capture her from her home in Cornwall. After escaping she is helped by Crow, travelling to London with him. As a result of spending days on the road unchaperoned, they are forced into marriage.
As usual with this type of story, characters don’t communicate with each other but, despite this, all comes well in the end. With its multiple viewpoints and large cast of characters, it is at first confusing, although eventually the reader starts to understand who is who, and the motives behind the events of each section of the story, which leads to a tension-filled finale. The main characters, especially Crow and Hester, are well-drawn, although there are some historical details I didn’t think accurate—for instance, the hero is asked if he is going to give up his earldom on marrying Hester. Prior to the Peerage Act of 1963, this would not have been possible.
Although not directly stated, this is obviously the first in a series of books, as it ends with some unanswered questions. It will be interesting to see what happens next.