I found this book to be fun and fast paced and easy to jump in and out of, with a pretty good balance of emotion, drama, action, humor and tension between the main characters. I liked the heroine and the hero, I wanted them to figure out a way to be happy and together, and I loved their scenes together. In the larger context of the mystery they were trying to solve, I cared more about them than their progress in solving the case.
Adrian, Lord Smythe, is a spy known as Wolf. His wife, Sophia, is also a spy, known as Saint. Their identities are so secret, they have no idea about one another, and are pretty much strangers in their professional and personal lives. But when the war with France comes to an end, the secret agency in which they work is downsized and they are both laid off (my language, not the author's). Then, each receives a mysterious note to meet in some dark, drippy location at midnight where they discover they're both spies. Plus, there is a case that needs solving, and whoever solves it will get their job back with the secret agency. But there's only one position available.
Adrian and Sophia are initially hostile to one another, but decide to work together as best they can despite very different styles of investigation. Their distrust of one another, the competition for the one position available, and their conflicting feelings for one another serve as the basis of the drama between them.
This is not a book for any reader who is easily bothered by diversions from historical accuracy. There were words used in dialogue that I looked up in the dictionary solely so I could take a look at the etymology and see if they really were in use at that time (in most cases, no). The plot and premise don't stand up well to intense historical scrutiny, so if you are the type of reader who gets twitchy at historical details, this would not be a book you'd enjoy.
Adrian and Sophia are so very attracted to one another, and I found that very entertaining to read. Adrian is especially confused after he comes to know the 'real' Sophia, not the woman she's been pretending to be for years. But there were reasons the couple didn't just jump back into bed with each other, and there were layered reasons why they didn't immediately trust each other. Some of those reasons were logical: he was a spy. She was a spy. They didn't trust anyone beside themselves. Some reasons made sense: they were married and yet they were pretty much strangers to one another.
But other reasons had the depth and long-lasting impact of a months-old Post-it note from the bottom of my purse. One of her reasons for not wanting to trust him was so poorly integrated with the plot it might have well been a big misunderstanding involving a secret virgin.
Her brother, whom she barely mentions until it's time for her to have a conflict that will stand in the way of her trusting Adrian, was also an agent, and he was engaged to a woman who was also a spy – and alas a double agent for the French. When Sophia's brother confronted his fiancee about being a double agent, she killed him. But since Sophia mentions her brother all of maybe six times, this reason had little impact and seemed contrived rather than realistic – especially when compared to the more valid and emotionally understandable reasons for her hesitation to get involved with Adrian physically again.
There are some seriously twee moments in this story, too. Sophia's nose itches. All the time. Every sign of imminent danger, her proboscis is like a scratchy sixth sense. Someone's following them? ITCH. They're in imminent danger? ITCH. She thinks about someone who might have something to do with the case they are working on, and might possibly have more information to share? ITCH!
Imagine how useful this would be in real life: you're heading to the checkout at the grocery store. ITCH. Oh! I forgot to get orange juice!
Of course this bit of itchery isn't easily accepted by Adrian, who prefers a very logical and rational method to his investigations (which, unfortunately, we as readers only see a tiny glimpses of, such as in a later scene when he shows Sophia his incredibly awesome file collection). Most of the investigating is led by her more intuitive method, and he spends a lot of time grousing about it until he is forced to admit that it's effective.
The whole nose-itching thing made me irritated, though, because in my opinion it was demeaning, especially for a character who at times had to convince her own husband that she had the skills necessary to be an operative on his level. She was excellent with a knife, but she was a lousy shot, while he didn't really have any skill deficiencies except for a lack of allergy-signals in his nostrils. His nose didn't itch and he didn't follow his itchstincts like she did.
The fact that her skills in itchvestigation were based on some other force at work, her itching nose instead of, say, her brain, was demeaning, and reduced her a good bit to some sort of magical pixie sprite spy version of Samantha from Bewitched. It made me … twitchy.
One last complaint before I get to the good stuff: so many times Galen mentions that Adrian's hair is dark blonde. In fact, she mentions it every time he runs his fingers through it, which he does about once a chapter. First, the repeated mentions of his hair color were distracting and unnecessary. Second, they kept drawing my attention back to this:
That guy ain't blonde.
In the end, I was more interested in the emotional development between Adrian and Sophia than I was in their mission, especially in the end because a villain who had not been mentioned before became the likely culprit. The bad guy was like a Patricia Cornwall villain who shows up near the end of the book conveniently smelling like maple syrup. Moreover, said villain was so stereotypical, he might as well have twirled a mustache and laughed maniacally while he explained his whole plan to them both while they dangled in a cage made of spaghetti over a tank full of sharks with freaking laser beams on their heads.
The emotional development between the two characters was really, really enjoyable, and I liked that they had to learn to work together and live together and be married to one another all at the same time – it was quite different from many historical plots. Adrian and Sophia had a lot of things to work out for themselves, some of which magically disappeared as if enough pages and time had passed for Adrian or Sophia to get over them, and some of which remained realistically unsolved by the end of the book, though each was in a much better place at the end than where they started.
The issues such as their attempts to have a family, and the real emotional pain both clearly felt about their marriage, their intimacy, their families, and their respective loneliness, were compelling, and the scenes with Sophia and Adrian battling, debating and learning to recognize and understand one another were the most enjoyable parts of the book.
As frustrated as I was with the investigative storyline, the emotional power of the romance between them was satisfying. Writing this review was actually kind of difficult because I did enjoy reading the book, but only upon having to think back and think about what I read did I find that my list of bothersome things was so long.