All proceeds from this anthology go to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
Premise for the Steel & Lace Anthology.
War, Rebellion, Love and Romance!
While England is ravaged by Civil War, divided loyalties abound and Victory is not always as imagined. With a king beheaded, a king in exile, and a Lord Protector ruling the land, the future looks certain for many and fraught with danger for others. ‘Tis true to say, characters have shaped their own destinies: but at what price, and what price must be paid for the future?
Reviewed by Suzy.
There is no gimmick sell to this anthology and no reference to outlandish sex and courtly rakes, but all those wicked delights do exist in moderation. And if you’re a discerning lover of historical romances, then I suspect like me, period accuracy is as important to you as ever the romance, the sex, and the background scenery are. That is why this wonderful collection of novellas has taken rather longer to assess and review than anticipated. Steel & Lace is a good eclectic mix of biography tinged with fiction, pure fiction stories blended with fact, and a few that are pure fiction. I feel I must commend all the authors at the outset on their dedication in researching every aspect in detail for their chosen periods.
Story 1: The Countess Spy by Anita Seymour.
Fiction based on the true exploits of Elizabeth Murray, Countess Dysart.
I have no intention of spoiling the plot, even for those who may have little or no knowledge of Elizabeth Murray’s life. I was fascinated from page one.
The author selected an incredibly thrilling and fear laden scenario for the opening page where Elizabeth is embarking on a dangerous mission in support of King Charles II. Although the English Civil war is at end and Oliver Cromwell rules England, there are many Royalist supporters in England who live in hope one day their king will return with an army at his back. All the while it is well understood couriers and spies risk all to further the cause, but Elizabeth Murray is a wife and mother. She’s brave and scared at one and the same time. Then her worst nightmare is suddenly reality aboard ship. Her life as she knows it could be taken from her if Cromwell’s spymaster can present proof she is guilty of treason. Oh yes, Elizabeth Murray was a brave heroine of her day, and this story is a little sprat to catch a mackerel for three more books exist and one presumes they relate to Elizabeth.
Story 2: The Price of Convictions by Anna Belfrage.
It is apparently a previously unpublished part of the Graham Saga.
It is fair to assume the author’s intention is to incite interest in the Graham Saga. In all honesty this tactic often works extremely well, and at a rough guess I predict I shall enjoy reading more books by this author. The story opens with the Graham family preparing to depart from Scotland and is the end of whatever went before and the beginning of what is to come. Great sadness lingers as it surely does for any family when all hope of a good life at home seems lost, and a better life is hoped for elsewhere. Trials and tribulations plague the family almost at every turn in the road, and the streets of Edinburgh are no less dangerous. The Grahams do seem to court trouble one way and another from unknowns and from estranged family, and there is hedonistic sexual activity between the loving parents. The story by itself feels incomplete, no beginning, and no end. All then becomes clear to the reader when it is made known there are several novels available before this event occurs and several novels afterwards. Price of Convictions is another little sprat to catch a mackerel.
Story 3: Si Tu Doir Partir by M. J. Logue.
The setting is the English Civil Wars.
Another sprat to catch a mackerel story and this is a rather sweet romance. Scarred of body and troubled of mind Russell is a Parliamentary solder and a veteran of several battles and skirmishes. While warring with his own thoughts and ideals his homeward bound trek deviates to a house that holds a special place in his heart. Not only does Thomazine the daughter of his once senior officer live there, she’s so young any thoughts of a romance between them could be construed as indecent. Then there’s the possibility that if he were to reveal his thoughts she might laugh and think it a joke. On the one hand he feels drawn to the whole household where the lady of the house once nursed him back to health. On the other hand she is a force to be reckoned with. While Russell ponders over dare he show his face the unseen but remembered magnate of cosiness draws him into the Babbitt household. What then transpires is historical romance at its best. Hoorah!
Story 4: The King’s Courier by Francine Howarth.
Mix of Fiction & Real Persons: Swashbuckling action adventure and romance.
There’s a mix of fictional characters and real people in this story beginning at the outset of the English Civil War. The story begins with a Royalist hero who returns to home ground on a secret spying mission for the king. Familiarity with forest trails and drover roads is useful for covert movement of an army from overseas, but the hero’s exploits soon clash with others in the county who have already infiltrated the enemy encampment. Safely behind the walls of Pembroke Castle sit two men who are forcing the county’s populous to support the Parliamentary call to arms. At the same time there are Royalists who are entrenched behind walls of other castles and fortified houses. The heroine is a feisty landowner’s daughter and her family is under house arrest and the hero’s sudden and unexpected intervention sets them free but she‘s far from grateful to him. Major conflict arises between them, and the hero soon has two battles of contention on his hands. Love and War. Again this is historical romance at its best.
Story 5: The Chambermaid by Andrea Zuvich.
Pure Fiction: A saucy and sexy Romantic romp set in the 1700s.
A Cinderella story with a sexy twist where the heroine dreams of a life that is beyond her grasp. But a titled gentleman has favoured her and she’s his sexual plaything. Unsure if she commands his heart she intends to in hope of escape from drudgery though is not the least bit in love with the man. She loves the idea of all that he is and what he has and why can’t she have some of it. The odd bauble is simply not enough. Her heart has always belonged to his cousin, Lord Vauxhall, who left the country long ago after the disastrous defeat of the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion against James II. His lordship was also beyond her reach but is finally on his way home. And poor Verity with fingers reddened from scrubbing floors and sore between the thighs from her lover’s ardent overtures, the arrival of his lordship is the highlight of her life. With a pretty face and a willing nature Verity soon has her lord enraptured until her lover turns up like a bad penny. Here the story gets interesting because it seems Verity has bitten off more than she can chew. Thankfully there is a happy outcome.
Story 6: Secrets of a Princess by Kelli Klampe.
A mix of fact, alternative history and time-slip.
This story begins in the 21st century with Kate an American who suffers a recurring and disturbing dream. Convinced the dream is somehow linked to the past, it’s not her past so is she going mad? She naturally seeks help from a psychic medium in hope it may solve her dilemma. Instead the dream escalates and becomes a part of her life. Seriously sure she is slipping through time in her imagination Kate has to prove to herself she is not insane. She travels to England and to the Isle of Wight and visits places she knows exist within the dream. The dream then takes on new meaning with a voice and eyes and she sees and hears as though she is there in the dream. Soon there is no escape from its hold. Like Alice - Through the Looking Glass - Kate is living within the dream and becomes a figure from the past. Her name is Elizabeth and she’s with her brother Henry and their father Charles I. What happens to the doomed king is well documented and the author follows true to the story until the time when Elizabeth dies - also documented. From here the story slips into alternative history. What might have happened if? This story is intriguing as Elizabeth lives on to fall in love, attempts to change history and witnesses events the real princess never did.
Story 7: Goblin Damn’d by Susan Ruth.
A truly amusing romantic tale of murder and mystery.
While a troupe of travelling players are rehearsing a scene from Macbeth one of the actors fails to appear on cue. Then a body is discovered. A female shrieks and startled looks shoot from one to another of the remaining cast, quickly followed by momentary disbelief. Who did it? That is the question. Well it seems it could have been any one of the cast and that’s when a rather distinguished gentleman appears on the scene and takes charge of the distressing situation. Though madness might explain better the situation that unfolds as hysterics and recriminations are balled and batted between the players. Valerian Sable duly attempts to make order from chaos and the cast settle to the reality a killer is walking amongst them or must be watching them closely. As fear mingles with pride secrets and lies are unearthed and love between two people blossoms. To say more would give away clues and spoil the thrilling aspect of whodunit.
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