What it’s about: (from Goodreads) When a powerful, decisive aristocrat undertakes to protect an absent-minded young inventress from England’s enemies, he finds his orderly world turned into chaos. Merlin Lambourne’s stubborn dream of flight puts her at risk, not to mention driving Ransom crazy. In spite of himself, he’s oddly enchanted by this muddled miss and her eccentric ways… but can he overcome his own fears and realize her invention may be the answer to saving both their lives?
A whimsical Regency-era tale of flying machines, fancy, and love among the hedgehogs.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): This is actually a book I own in digital and print format as well but hadn’t previously read. It is the only Kinsale I hadn’t read. I’m not entirely sure why. But it meant that I could experience the book completely without any prior expectations. This is my only opportunity until the author released a new book as I have and have read (and enjoyed) all the others.
Merlin Lambourne is a kind of absent-minded professor type, albeit a prettier one than usual. Ransom Falconer, Duke of Damerell, is on assignment from Prime Minister Castlereagh to obtain from Merlin an invention which will aid in the war effort. Merlin hasn’t been raised to be a member of the haut ton even though she is, by birth, entitled to a place in it. She doesn’t know the social niceties or anything about propriety, having been raised by her (now deceased) scientifically minded Uncle Dorian and two retainers (twins, Theo and Thaddeus). She is very focused on her main goal – to invent a flying machine – to the point of being unable to really take in much else. The way Merlin gets his title wrong all the time, insisting on calling him “Mr. Duke” is funny and when later in the book she gets huffy with him she says:
“If I ever get to be a duke, I won’t be as big a bully as you are, I can tell you that!”
“Since you are exceedingly unlikely ever to get to be a duke, I don’t think we need concern ourselves with the prospect.”
“One just never knows, does one?”
I admit to a fond chuckle.
After an unfortunate (albeit pleasant) incident involving a sadly mislabelled drug containing aphrodisiac properties, Ransom proposes but (and this will become a theme) Merlin declines because she doesn’t really give a fig for propriety. (It is true that with her usual eccentric lifestyle, such things don’t have a huge effect on her day to day routine and she has no thought to marriage prospects in general).
Ransom comes to love Merlin fairly quickly, but it is a somewhat selfish love – one that is very much on his own terms. He has reasons, some of them are even good ones or at least, they appear to be. But at heart, he wants to clip Merlin’s wings and she cannot contemplate a life like that, even though she loves him too. Ransom manipulates shamelessly and plays fast and loose with the truth for what he believes is a nobler (if self-serving) purpose. He gets caught out of course – as one does – and then he apologises, sincerely, but I couldn’t help but think he was mainly sorry for getting caught. Merlin cannot believe Ransom’s promises – his track record is poor in this area and this is the central conflict of the relationship.
Merlin does have a somewhat alarming habit of being kidnapped but even at the beginning, she is always confident Ransom will come to her rescue. And he does, of course.
There is also the external conflict of someone trying to harm Merlin and/or her inventions and talk of spies and French agents, as well as Ransom’s troubled relationship with his brother Shelby. There were quite long periods in the story where the Merlin/Ransom relationship was not the main focus. While it didn’t bother me here (I was entertained by the other aspects of the story and the narration well enough to be satisfied), I can see that some readers may not like it.
In the end, Merlin has a new understanding of Ransom’s position and has some experience with manipulation for “the greater good” and Ransom does come to a revelation about his own nature. He doesn’t believe he will be able to change however much he tries but I think by this time Merlin has become more alive to his ways and will be less likely to allow herself to be manipulated (or at least, I’d like to think so). Merlin will never be the traditional duchess we mostly see in romance novels however and this wasn’t really addressed in the book. Ransom takes a significant interest in the running of government and I can’t really imagine Merlin hosting a ball or soiree with any huge success. She is and always will be eccentric, focused mainly on her inventions and she doesn’t seem to be terribly maternal. I liked her very much but I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more about what their “ordinary” life was going to look like. Still, Merlin will keep Ransom from becoming too “stiff-rumped” and Ransom will make sure Merlin remembers to eat and sleep, even if he will never be able to stop her from her passion for invention and discovery.
What else? I’ve listened to 3 Kinsale books narrated by Nicholas Boulton now. It is not an accident. It is not a freak occurrence. He is just that talented. The production values are so high, the errors are non existent and the characterisation is superb. He is kind of spoiling me for other narrators. There are worse problems to have.
In print I think I’d have given this one a B, but the narration elevated the experience so I’m going with this.
AMAZON KOBO BOOK DEPOSITORY
NOTE: Buy links are for the digital or print versions, the audiobook is available from Audible (follow the above Amazon link) or iTunes as a digital download.