British agent Cora deBeau has spent the last three years seducing secrets from the most hardened of French spies while searching for her parents’ killer. When her latest assignment goes awry, she suffers at the hands of her French captor until Guy Trevelyan, the Earl of Helsford and master cryptographer, saves her during a daring rescue. Scarred and wary of men, Cora shies away from the one man who could heal her savaged heart.
After rescuing Cora from a French dungeon, Guy discovers it was one of his deciphered messages that led to her captivity. While her enemy tracks them across England, Guy strives to earn her forgiveness. But will he find the scars on her wounded soul run too deep?
I think the general public has become so aware of the entire espionage issue in our present time that we forget that the “spy game” has gone way back, not only in our own country but in European military engagements as well. The Napoleonic Era was a hot-bed of spy activity and terrorism. Barbaric torture didn’t cease when the Middle Ages was over. It was a significant part of the 19th century and in the hands of the bad guy in this novel it was developed to an art.
The rescue of Cora LeBeau was almost accidental. The two agents were in that particular castle because they had been informed that “The Raven” was to be brought out of France as soon as possible. Cora had been so tortured and mistreated by the time that her brother and the Earl arrived they hardly recognized her. Her head has nearly been freed from all her hair; her face had been cut and scarred as had her thighs–all the parts of her that the French aristocrat took delight in and sought to prevent anyone else of enjoying. She had been left as food for the rats and her body bore evidence of their enthusiastic knawing on her. With little food and water, she had shrunk. Little wonder that she was nearly unrecognizable.
Yet there is also the presence of a double agent in the English government and while the Earl and Cora’s brother are seeking to avenge her abuse, Cora is still determined to set herself up as bait. There is kidnapping and missing people, a constant sense that no one–both characters and readers–know who to trust; it seems that the harder the Earl works to find the leak the worse things get. Underneath it all is that senses that all this pain and suffering has been caused by the Earl as he was just doing his job. It is a messy novel and lots of readers won’t like that. It isn’t a matter of the novel’s literary construction. The author has, it seems, brought the reader into a world that is uncomfortable and dangerous on many levels. But there is also incredible bravery here and women will recognize Cora’s indomitable spirit, her determination to be the best undercover agent she can be, to stay strong in the face of horrific torture, and to refuse to give up until the objective has been met. A reader can’t help but be proud to have made the acquaintance of such a woman.
This is a really fine historical read. It won’t be easy for everyone–some readedrs just don’t like such a complicated plot and story line. But it does give us insight into the deeper workings of England’s Foreign Office and its management of information in war time. And while it was a slow starter for me, that is probably more an indication of my fatigue lever or what other things I had going than the quality of the book. I think this story is worth the time and effort to read. In the end, I felt it was a satisfying experience.
I give it a rating of 3.75 out of 5
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.