Sunday, December 8, 2019

Review - A Dangerous Engagement

Original Title: A Dangerous Engagement
Series: The Regency Spies of London, #3
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Published: September 12th, 2017

Publisher: Waterfall Press

A funny thing about this series is how the rating decreased as I read. The first book was a four-stars; the second, a three-stars; and the last one, a two-stars. I thought a lot about the rating, but I ended up deciding that, if I went for three, I was being overly generous. Sadly, I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this book, so I’ll try my best to soften the blow. I’m not gonna lie, I had low expectations from this one. Melanie Dickerson hardly is one of my favourite authors, but I just hated the idea of leaving this series unfinished, having only one book left. I needed closure.

It’s not the first time we see Felicity Mayson, the heroine, and it was only fair that she got her own adventure. She had already been there in both the previous books, but just as a secondary character, a friend to Julia Grey and Leorah Langdon, without really meaningful dialogue or action on her part. Here, we get to know her better, but… I just didn’t like her. She’s supposed to be this woman with her own ideas and plans, who wants to do unusual things for a lady of her time, like writing in favour of women, and learning Chinese to go away as a missionary, but she turned out to be a prim and proper young lady, impressionable, and overall, a drama queen. She’s not the strong character I was hoping to read about, as she fainted all the time and had to be rescued and carried to safety by the love interest. And I found it strange, because right from the get-go we know she wants to do all those “unladylike” things, but from the way she is, it’s not very likely that she would do good as a missionary. With her constitution and propensity to pass out, she wouldn’t last a week in China.

Moreover, at one point, Lady Blackstone tells Felicity she saw a kindred spirit in her, when she heard she often visited the Children’s Aid Mission and basically cared for other people, so she decided to make her join her cause. But other than that, nothing else justifies why they want Felicity to work for them. No talents, no special personality traits… Nothing. They make her come, tell her out of nowhere what they are up to, and so, she can’t leave. Awesome. But my point being, that conversation in which Lady Blackstone found out about Felicity is the kind of thing I would have liked to read about, instead of having someone telling me it happened at some indeterminate moment in the past.

As for the dangerous engagement that gives us the novel’s title, at first, I was really shocked, wondering how the hell did she even accepted Mr. Ratley’s proposal without any hesitation, or doubts or anything. Honestly, I’m really on the fence when it comes to this, because, on the one hand, it’s understandable that she accepted him. That’s her level of despair, given that every possible suitor she could ever have was deterred because of her lack of fortune, and having twelve other siblings, her marriage prospects were lower with each passing day. But also, having her friends’ example, Julia’s and Leorah’s, who married for love and only love, I thought her attitude would be different. That’s why I have mixed feelings. She’s not like her friends, she’s not a romantic girl, and has this “accepting the first man who would have me” kind of mindset, because that is what she has been taught her entire life. Without money, she would be lucky to be proposed to. So, on the one hand, it’s wrong and rushed, but on the other, kind of realistic. She didn’t have much of a choice, and she wasn’t like Leorah, who, undoubtedly, would have chosen spinsterhood instead of marrying someone she barely knew.

Some things were just not well done, I felt the narration, and the dialogue, somewhat weak at some points. I have a few examples. Look:

- Felicity is talking to Mr. Ratley, and asks “Are you interested in horticulture, sir? Or botany, perhaps?”, and he goes “No. That is, I know a little of subjects, but very little. I was a soldier before my father died and left me substantial fortune.

I wonder, what has one thing to do with the other? What’s the point of that? It’s not what she asked. Also, things like these:

- Aunt Agnes says “Lady Blackstone is your aunt. She would not be involved in such a plan.

Again, what has one thing to do with the other?

- “Philip rarely made time to see his brothers anymore. He had grown tired of their pranks and tricks a few years past, and their conversations had become strained. But they would have to respect him after he saved the country and the monarchy.

One second earlier he was poetically admiring Felicity’s beauty, and then, he thinks this. And then, he comes back to the present. What? It comes out of nowhere, and serves to no purpose. There are definitely more pressing matters ahead, it has nothing to do with the current situation they are in. I could cut it out, and nothing would change.

Philip McDowell (a.k.a Merrick), is our hero. And in the most literal sense of the word, because Felicity completely depends on him. She’s a damsel in distress and he’s her knight in shining armour. He’s a redhead and has blue eyes. He’s brave and committed to his cause, but other than that, we don’t know anything about him. Has he any passions in life? Any personality traits? Any talents? Anything, besides being his father’s forgotten fourth son, with no fortune to his name? Anything about his training to be a spy? Nothing? Really? He must be a superhero then, because later, when they find out he’s been working against them, they tie him up and lock him in a shed, and somehow, he manages to escape, not only without anyone seeing anything, but also, with enough time to saddle a horse. *eye roll* Not only we don’t get more information about his miraculous escape, but no one inquires any further on how he did it, or who helped him. *face-palm*

About the revolution that is cooking up in Doverton Hall, right from the moment he gets there, the opportunity for a good mystery went down the drain. They are readying their weapons to go for a shooting, and they say:

We will assassinate several of the highest people in government—Lord Liverpool, cabinet members, and as many from the House of Lords as possible—then the rest will be thrown into confusion. We can capture the royal family and execute them as well while our armed men from outlying areas will march on London and seize the government buildings and institutions.

It’s too soon, and too literal. We are not many chapters into the book, that there’s already no room for mystery, or anticipation, or wonder. They even give the specific date they will get into action, and it felt like a slap in the face. I was not given time to warm up to this plot, that I already knew all their evil purposes. We don’t have time to wonder what a hell is going on here, as to be shocked when the truth is finally revealed. How lucky for Philip to find out so soon, how convenient that they talk about it right in front of him. Plus, he hasn’t investigated a lot, when Mr. Cartwright comes and literally says:

- “Perhaps now we can speak more freely about our revolution.

A spy’s job never made easier. *eye-roll*

As for the rest of characters, I felt like it was potential there, to both enlarge the mystery, and deepen the romance, that wasn’t exploited. The villains are just so easy to hate, but there’s very little insight into their past. We know a thing or two about Lady Blackstone, but nothing about Mr. Ratley, although he’s one of the main characters (a part of the engagement the title itself mentions, after all). I often found myself thinking that the plot gave opportunities to do something, and the author just wouldn’t take them. For example, at one point, both Lady Blackstone and Mr. Ratley go out of the picture, she, going for a ride, and he, to see the falcons. And that’s what they actually do. See what I mean? All I could think was “Really? That’s all? Aren’t they using that as an excuse to go somewhere else, or see someone? Or even each other?” Because at one point I thought they may be secret lovers, which they weren’t. Oh, and it was totally obvious that they were responsible for the dead man that showed up in the garden. I mean, a man who supported their cause was killed and left in the house’s grounds, suggesting a traitor among them, and they never mentioned the topic again, or searched for a culprit. A more obvious move, impossible. *eye-roll*

Another thing I would like to say is, why making the villains so plain… evil? I mean, it sounds evident, but hear me out. Even when they are painted to be the bad guys, I thought their general goal was correct. They made the choice to stood up for injustice, and to save all those mistreated people, sent to an early grave because of their poor working conditions in mills and factories. But obviously, they chose the wrong method. My point is, Mr. Ratley was very easy to hate. He was disgusting, intense, and said things like this about Felicity, in a mocking tone:

- “She is an ornament on my arm, my brightest jewel.

For one, I wouldn’t marry someone who calls me this. But, I mean, this is all there is about him. He’s a revolutionary who only wants a wife because she’s pretty and can have his children. And little more. He doesn’t do a lot, he’s just like this giant bat always lurking over Felicity and becoming more disgusting by the hour, threatening to imprison her through their wedding. And with that, it’s clear what the author is doing, that is, making very easy for us to see who is superior, if Mr. Ratley, or Philip. How wonderful it would have been to have us doubting! A challenge and an interesting plot would have been to write Ratley as a man hard to hate, given his motives for the uprising, that comes to help others who suffer. I think that if Ratley had been this man that has good intentions, but is doing things the wrong way, it would have added depth to his character, and made Felicity’s decision a hell of a lot more difficult. I’m talking about a love triangle here, I know. But I can stand it if it well written, after all (and has a good point).

Oh, and also, having a lot of people in the house, supporting their cause, was a wasted opportunity too, because the whole plot revolves around a very small cast of characters. The rest of the perpetrators are only a handful of violent men who drink a lot. Nothing more.

Another thing I thought, that would have led to some interesting plot twists, was that Lady Blackstone could be Felicity’s real mother. For the way she talked and caressed her cheek from time to time, I thought that would come up at some point. But it didn’t (I’m not disappointed for that, though). As for her character in general, the only thing that came out as a shock about her was that she had killed her first husband. In self-defence, but still. She’s the mastermind behind the whole plan, but some things had me rolling my eyes. Like when Felicity asks permission to go to church with her aunt on Sunday, and she says yes, even after everything that happened. And there was I, thinking she was smart. One minute she trusts Felicity, the next she frowns at her, then she has her room searched, and then, she trusts her again. Oh my God *face palm*. Woman, please, make up your mind!

And then, there’s Agnes Appleby, Felicity’s aunt, who is always there but nobody pays her any heed. Her portrayal is almost cartoonish, and repetitive, as she is always tugging her sleeves because she’s nervous, or reading a book. By the way she was described, I couldn’t help but imagine her as an old, frail woman, well past seventy years-old, and I was shocked when they said she was only thirty-five. At one point I thought, “I bet this woman is smarter than she lets on”, and I turned out to be right, but… *sigh* I knew what they were going to do the moment the parson was introduced, out of, literally, nowhere. I thought “they are going to give him a book with the papers inside so he can mail them to the Home Office”, and that, my dear friends, was EXACTLY what happened. I don’t have to explain my disappointment any further. The plot wasn’t very complex in general, but I never thought I would guess the exact thing so fast.

Ok, the romance… I guess I have to talk about it. It’s not good. However, two positive things I will say about it. At least, the attraction is subtler than in other books I’ve read, they don’t think of each other as spouse material right from the get-go. And I liked that Philip sees beyond her physical appearance, he recognizes her beauty but likes her because of her mind and intelligence, her bravery in despite of being scared. That is well done. But, well… as I told you before, Felicity is a drama queen, and the romantic plot let us see just how much. At one point she tells Philip she wants to do something meaningful in life, like being a missionary and learn Chinese, and the next moment, it says:

Felicity blushed at how much personal information she had revealed to this stranger. She had never opened up that much to anyone except a few friends and her mother.

How exaggerated! True, she didn’t tell that to anyone, and it is the beginning of trust between her and Philip, but it makes it sound like he just saw her naked. It wasn’t THAT much that she revealed, after all. Come on! *eye roll*

And also, things between them get too obvious, too soon:

- “There was something about him that drew her to him.

- “At least now he could go back to admiring her pretty eyes, delicate brows, and perfectly shaped mouth. […] He probably should not be noticing the latter.

I don’t know what has to happen for authors to stop using this trope. The feelings that they shouldn’t be having, the thought they have to stop because they go too far... Like here:

He did not care specifically for her. And she shouldn’t wish he did. She shouldn’t. But she did.

I just don’t see the connection between them. They fall in love because the author said so, and nothing more. *face palm*. And then:

Protecting her could lead to mistakes, and a mistake could cost him his mission, the respect of his colleagues, and public humiliation, not to mention his life and the lives of others.

I guess that if it costs his life, the rest doesn’t matter too much, don’t you think?

Anyway, and some point, and without any meaningful dialogue or enough interactions to support it, Felicity decides she loves Philip. But she barely knows the guy! Three weeks she stayed in the house with him before everything went to hell. And it was enough for to fall in love with each other? Sure!

Also, she thinks this:

He did not care for her, and how could she form an attachment to him when she was engaged to someone else? It was indecent.

Yes, because the way Ratley treats her is the most decent thing in the world. *eye-roll* She has all these notions of decency and decorum, but it only made her character all the more boring. And she didn’t have decency in mind when she had to kiss Ratley over and over again to distract him, and give Philip time to search for Lady Blackstone’s papers.

Anyway, moving on to the happy ending. Lady Blackstone and Ratley locked both Felicity and Agnes in the house, and Philip, obviously, comes to the rescue. She does nothing to attempt to escape, or even says anything intelligent while she’s captive. Philip comes and solves everything, and in the end, when everything is said and done, oh, so casually, he gets a fortune and a title. That is, all those things Felicity does not have, and that’s why no one wants to marry her. How convenient. Everything about that ending was so rushed! We didn’t even see Ratley and Lady Blackstone pay for their crimes! It felt like the author tried to put everything she did not in the rest of book, that make for a good Regency read, in the span of ten pages, or so. Balls, dances, dresses, flirting, formal courting, society… All this, to make their engagement more believable. Everything that in normal circumstances would lead them to get married, ended up crammed in there, and well... It wasn’t good. Even more, Felicity asks Philip:

Are you not scandalized that people are gossiping about me being engaged to that insurrectionist?

Please, tell me you are not serious. If anyone should be scandalized, it wouldn’t be him, of all people. It’s only logical.

It’s sad to think that my favourite part in the whole book was to see Julia and Leorah again. They came in, and I smiled as if I had suddenly seen old friends of mine. I loved when Leorah was mentioned as Viscountess, and said she was pregnant, and also Julia, with her third child! But, see what I mean? I was more excited by that couple of pages about them, than with the whole book about Felicity herself. And I think that speaks volumes.

So, long story short, in many aspects, I thought this book could have been so much better, with potential to make the story bigger, richer, and overall, more entertaining. But it wasn’t like that, and I think I’m done with Melanie Dickerson. She writes beautifully, but her plots are, sadly, not everything they could be. Others will love her books, and I totally respect that. Though, I admit that I liked the first and second book in the trilogy, with their faults and shortcomings, I’ve definitely read better.


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