Anne Cleeland’s first novel, Tainted Angel, has all the elements romance novels should have: a first chapter that captures the reader, each chapter ends a bit ominous, and an independent heroine.
From the beginning, it feels like the reader has jumped in the middle of the characters’ lives, not the other way around, where life doesn’t happen until the writer says so. There is a sense that Vidia Swanson, an “angel” working for the Crown, has had an adventurous life since the reader is privy to her past and sometimes with the other characters. It seems the author has set up the characters so that she can return to them. (Yes, this is going to be a series, but not with Vidia. There will be another cast of spies.)
Carstairs is the soon-to-be love interest of Vidia. Don’t you love the name—Carstairs? Cleeland puts the hero and heroine in funny predicaments from getting them to bed then in bed in the first chapter. Being a spy Vidia must use her womanly powers to coax the men of their secrets. Her tryst with Carstairs is passionate. They meet later and he says, “I don’t want to stop speaking of it, Vidia—I can’t. In fact, I would like to continue to meet with you when it can be arranged.” He is smitten by her, but he is a spy too working for the Crown. Vidia is keeping company with many men, one being Brodie, who is more of a father figure. Vidia admits to Carstairs there is nothing going on—she is merely keeping an eye on Brodie. She is truly the primmest “angel” who hides under a veil of “companionship.” She mentions her encounter with Carstairs to Brodie, who tells her it’s a trap.
Everybody is suspicious of each other that they are transporting England’s gold to the French—Napoleon’s side. As a reader you will be suspicious of everyone, but don’t let the engaging characters distract you from where the gold is. Maisie, Vidia’s maid, will distract the reader from the gold with her well written accent in the dialogue and her dry humor or humour, rather, since this is in England.
The author keeps the character’s a bit illusive pushing the plot along with twists and turns. One chapter ends with Carstairs’ not making love to Vidia as she expected. Giving the details as to what leads up to their continued relationship would spoil the book, but they are trying to uncover the lost gold in between their chaotic love affair.
Vidia is daring and uses every device to escape Carstairs’ hold. She hides under a cloak and tries to escape with a horse only to be caught. She checks out the drapery in the hotel room to use for escaping out the window. She can use a gun and talk her way out of any situation. Once, Carstairs rescues her from a cold sea after she has “jumped ship.”
Southern Californian author Anne Cleeland creates a picture of early nineteenth century London from the underground world to a card room where the rich and wealthy pass time. The streets are filled with cobblestones, drunkards exposed by the street lamps and transportation from a horse drawn carriage. The beautiful spy is always fully dressed with a silk pelisse or fichu in her décolletage. It’s apparent the author has done her research on The Napoleonic Wars and Regency England, adding depth to the story. This Historical Romance, Tainted Angel, is an adventurous first book.