Her parents guillotined during The Terror for their loyalty to Marie Antoinette, Marianne d’Asselnat is whisked out of France by her godfather Gauthier de Chazay and taken to live with her maternal Aunt Ellis at Selton Hall in England. Ellis adores the infant on site and raises her as her own. On the brink of womanhood at seventeen, her aunt’s dying wish is for Marianne to wed Francis Cranmere, the son of an old friend and the story begins on her wedding night in 1809 – a wedding night that goes horribly awry with the turn of a card – and Marianne’s peaceful world is thoroughly turned upside down and inside out.
I really can’t tell you much more without giving it all away (and you don’t want to miss the fun) but circumstances send our heroine to France and after plentiful toils and travails ends up the beloved mistress of the Emperor Napoleon himself. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of action left for this royal mistress including unexpected returns from the past, abductions, and perhaps a ghost or two that goes bump in the night. And what about that mysterious American who won the game of cards and the secret he carries that could mean further danger for Marianne? So dangerous he dares not tell her? Does Jason wish her harm or does he want nothing more than to carry her off to America and safety?
This was a blast to read, the action picked up from the get go and rarely stopped until the very, very surprising twist at the end (I did not see that one coming). Better qualified as historical romance than historical fiction, there are still plentiful details of the surroundings, clothing and food – and I really liked seeing the *inside* look at Bonaparte at work and at play. Marianne was just about the perfect heroine for me, she had plenty of *sand* and used her wits to get herself out of sticky wickets instead of waiting for an available man to do it (well….most of the time). Nice change, that. This is the first in a series and thanks to the folks at Fantastic Fiction along with a pal at Goodreads this appears to be the order,
1. The Bride of Selton Hall (1969)
1. Marianne (omnibus) (1969)
2. The Eagle and the Nightingale (1969)
3. The Masked Prince (1971)
4. The Privateer (1972)
5. The Rebels (1973)
6. The Lords of the East (1974)
7. The Crown of Fire (1976)
Do click on those links and see the other covers. The copy I received via ILL was published G.P. Putnam and Sons and includes three parts, the first of which is Bride of Selton Hall and the last is The Eagle and the Nightingale so perhaps different editions are broken down further (if anyone knows, feel free to comment). If you find you are having a hard time tracking these down at a reasonable price, but don’t forget Interlibrary Loan – they can be found. Benzoni also wrote a “Catherine” series that I hear is even better and I believe is set in the medieval period – although the last of them was never translated into English. 4/5 stars.