When a crew of Napoleon’s soldiers pillage young Sophie Von Hugel’s estate outside Leipzig, she escapes by the skin of her teeth, traumatized and unsure where to turn. At a nearby inn, she meets adventurer Charles Vincent over a game of cards, and in short order, they determine to flee to a nearby city. They take Sophie’s governess Miss Elizabeth Barrymore with them as a chaperone, and set up a gaming establishment where they can fleece soldiers–French, German, or Russian–of their pay until they’ve earned enough money to make their way to the safety of England.
As the trio follow various armies from Weimar to Paris, Charles disappears more and more frequently, leading Sophie and Elizabeth to suspect that there’s more to him than meets the eye. When their exclusive salon begins to collect information as well as wagers, it’s clear that Charles is as much a spy as he is a gambler. Soon, Napoleon’s end seems certain. Circumstances become more dangerous in volatile France and a suspicious English diplomat keeps them all on their toes as Sophie tries to discover whether she could ever mean more to Charles than the cause he’s sworn to serve.
Originally published in 1965, this book was an interesting blend of a Regency romance and a political spy novel. It covered events in 1813-1814, right up to the deposition of Napoleon, and frequently alluded to historical fictures such as Wellington, Talleyrand, and Castlereagh. Interestingly, the book description pegs Sophie and Charles as the protagonists of the book, but Elizabeth and her English suitor are just as much front and center in this two-stranded romance novel. Not much can be said about Elizabeth without spoiling her story, but suffice it to say that she has been much wronged, and it will take more than a little explaining before an erstwhile suitor can set things right.
As for the younger of the two couples–Charles is curious, keen, cunning, and resourceful. He persists in treating Sophie like a child because he knows that if he treats her like a woman it will be his undoing. Sophie, in turn, treats him with petulance and sarcasm, miffed that he refuses to play the courtier to her and dismayed that he rates his secret errands more important than her safety.
In the end, the deus ex machina plot twist was a little too abrupt for my taste, and I wish the wrap-up of both romances had been more satisfactory. The vivid detail and historical scope of the story, however, kept me captivated throughout ninety-nine percent of it, and I found this to be another enjoyable read by Jane Aiken Hodge.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.