I almost never fail to finish a book. And I did finish this one, eventually — but it took over a year. I lost interest on the first attempt last summer, then picked it back up and had to revisit the first half before I could go into the rest. I can’t quite put my finger, though, on why I had trouble getting into this book. It started slow, may have been the problem. The first hundred pages are an awful lot of the hero and heroine encountering each other in hallways and having awkward, abortive conversations, and the pace doesn’t pick up a whole lot from there.
The plot: Celia, as I believe we learned in earlier novels, is the daughter of a famous and successful courtesan, Alessandra, who has recently died. Celia was raised elsewhere, but was brought to her mother when she was sixteen to be prepared to take over Alessandra’s business. I was, when we first learned she was a courtesan’s daughter, really hoping for an unrepentantly non-virgin heroine — but, alas, I was disappointed. She ran off to Daphne in time to preserve her virginity. After Alessandra’s death, Celia discovers that her mother left a lot of debts — and that the man who purchased first rights to her would still like to claim them. Celia also learns that her mother’s second home, a private retreat where she did not conduct her business, has a boarder, Jonathan. What Celia does not know (but soon comes to suspect) is that Jonathan is working on behalf of the crown to try and discover if Alessandra was working as a French spy during the Napoleonic Wars.
There are some twists and turns, but none that are particularly inventive or surprising. Celia is on a quest to find out who her father is, and the scenes where she finally confronts him have some of the best emotional intensity in the book. Celia does not want to follow her mother’s path, though she manages not to demonize it or sex — but her attitude towards all of it, and towards her developing affair with Jonathan, is a little muddled. The tension of her decision-making progress doesn’t come across terribly well, because she plays everything so close to the chest — not just with the other characters but also with the reader. There’s also another subplot involving Celia’s attempts to get the Rarest Blooms an outpost station in her house in London. In some ways, I think this book couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be and what story it wanted to be telling — and so it ended up not doing much of anything.
This was the weakest and least interesting of the Rarest Blooms series for me. The characters were not engaging enough, and the plotline meandered without any real sense of drive or urgency behind it. Even the spy subplot fails to inject the necessary excitement; books like Suzanne Enoch’s London’s Perfect Hero have done that far better. The best parts of this book are the teasing glimpses we get of Daphne and Castleford, who will be the heroine and hero of the final (and far more interesting) book in the series, Dangerous in Diamonds.