The Courtesan's Secret
by Claudia Dain, historical (2008)
Berkley, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-425-22136-5


I strongly suggest that you read The Courtesan's Daughter before you read The Courtesan's Secret, if you haven't done so already. This is because you will get a better appreciation of the events alluded to in this book. Also in this book, the author has what seems like twenty or so characters trotted out on a roll call of sorts within the first dozen or so pages. If you have no clue who these characters are at all, I have this feeling that you will have a hard time getting into this story.

I have a pretty hard time getting into The Courtesan's Secret myself despite the fact that I enjoyed The Courtesan's Daughter. This is due to the sheer number of characters re-introduced in the first dozen or so pages, for one, the same characters that nearly derailed the previous book where I am concerned. Also, this story feels a lot like a retread of The Courtesan's Daughter minus the interesting characters. My main reaction while reading this book is to be reminded again and again why I like the previous book so much better than this one.

Lady Sophia Dalby is back, and this time, Louisa Kirkland, whom I've first met in the previous book, approaches her for some advice. The man she is infatuated with, Lord Dutton, has bought a strand of pearls that she considers hers from her father. It's a long story, why Dutton wanted the pearls. Take my advice and read the previous book if you want to know why, heh. At any rate, she wants those pearls back. Meanwhile, Louisa has no clue that while she's trailing after Dutton like a determined besotted puppy, Lord Henry Blakesley lets her boss him around because he is trailing after her like a determined besotted puppy. Can Sophia's unnervingly efficient and omnipotent machinations sort out this messy confusion and lead Louisa to the man who is right for her?

Like the previous book, this one isn't the story of Louisa and Henry as much as it is the story of how Sophia "handles" these two and other secondary characters around her. After all, the title is a reference to her, which should tell you something. While a part of me wishes that the author will let Sophia steal the scene a little bit less and let the younger folks shine on their own more, I still find this story a pleasant and even laugh-out-loud funny one.

Only, I have read the previous book, sigh. There is much about this story that mirrors the previous story - which is deliberate on the author's part - but unfortunately this serves to drive home how uninteresting Louisa and Henry are compared to Caroline and Ashdon. Unlike Caro who is a character in her own right as she struggles to remove herself from her mother's shadow, Louisa is just a silly young woman happily dancing to Sophia's tune. Henry is just a nice guy who decides to show his macho man antics when he realizes that he has to make his move on Louisa, but that's about it, really. Far too much of this story is dependent on the personality and machinations of the perpetually smug and self-satisfied Sophia that the other characters end up being mere puppets dancing to her strings.

I have a fun time with The Courtesan's Secret. Only, I've had a better time with the previous book because the previous book allows other characters not named Sophia Dalby to have some personality of their own. Here, everyone is just a dancing monkey. It's amusing to watch them dance to Sophia's song, but not as satisfying as it could have been.

Rating: 81


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