The Pretender, by Celeste Bradley

>> Wednesday, May 05, 2004

When I bought The Pretender, by Celeste Bradley, I almost bought the next two books in the series, too, but I was very cautious and decided I'd better try the author's style and then decide.

She had a secret she'd do anything to hide.

Agatha Cunnington, a headstrong beauty from the country, has come to London in search of her missing brother James. The only clue she has is a cryptic letter signed The Griffin. Agatha decides to disguise herself as a respectable married woman so that she can go about the city unnoticed. But for her charade to work she needs a suitable "husband," preferably someone tall, elegant, and rakish-someone like Simon Montague Rain.

He had a secret he'd do anything to hide.

Simon Montague Rain, also known as The Magician, is a member of The Liar's Club, a renegade group of rogues and thieves in the service of the Crown. When someone begins murdering members of the undercover cabal one by one, Simon is given the mission to bring in The Griffin, one of his comrades who is suspected of betraying his brothers. Simon goes undercover and infiltrates the home of "Mrs." Agatha Applequist who he believes is the Griffin's mistress. Before Simon knows what's happened, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Agatha's soft, feminine charms-and he is tempted beyond reason to break the first rule of The Liar's Club: never fall in love.
Well, now I wish I'd been a little less cautious and bought those two, because The Pretender was very, very nice. A B+.

The book's main strength were Agatha and Simon, two strong characters who were very definitely not the same old thing. Agatha, especially, was wonderful. She really was smart (very different from those TSTL heroines the authors keep insisting are intelligent): her plans were sound, she carried them out decisively, and she did what needed to be done. I can't say how glad I was to see her lie without blushing and stammering and her eyes giving her away, lol! I also felt a lot of respect for the way she handled her relationship with Simon, mostly. She took responsibility for her own actions and went after what she wanted and even with something which I didn't approve of, she was very clear in her knowledge that it was wrong.

Simon was no slouch, either. He was a self-made man, endearingly rough sometimes, and with a brand of patriotism I found attractive and which provided a very good conflict. I loved him for his reactions to Agatha, for the way he admired her intelligence and quickness of mind. Also, we have here a plot line I used to read all the time: the hero who thinks the heroine is his antagonist's mistress... right until they make love and he discovers she's actually a virgin. It was very nicely done here, basically because the misunderstanding was very plausible and most important of all, unlike sooo many of those old books, Simon didn't treat Agatha like crap when he thought she wasn't a virgin. In fact, he never judged her.

Bradley succeeded in creating excellent chemistry between her protagonists and not only that, these two also liked and enjoyed each other. They were as well suited mentally as physically.

The rest of the cast of characters was also well done. I appreciated the fact that though we are well introduced to the protagonists of the next two books, their presence wasn't simply gratuitous sequel-bait, but organic to the plot.

As for the plot, well, spies and secret societies... sound familiar? Every single single-title historical seems to have those elements. However, this particular one was well thought-out and pretty interesting, and, most important of all, the author seemed to be enjoying herself with it. I got the impression that Bradley must really like spy stories, whereas very often I get the feeling the authors are writing those stories because they are "in". There's simply no joy in them, unlike in The Pretender.

I hope The Impostor and The Spy get here soon!


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