The Scarlet Spy
by Andrea Pickens, historical (2008)
Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-61801-4


The Scarlet Spy is a decent enough, if somewhat formulaic, romance were not for the spy plot. If you have read my reviews of the previous books in the author's Merlin's Maidens series, you'd know that I've commented that there were some plot inconsistencies in those books, usually involving so-called spies doing things that were pretty out-of-character and stupid for their supposed training and expertise. This is easily the weakest book in the series because these inconsistencies play a big part in moving the plot along. The only reason this book doesn't end up in the Samantha Saxon Hall of Infamy when it comes to the Plotting Full of Fail Award is because the heroine can kick some bad guys' rear ends when she ends up in deep trouble - she doesn't need too much rescuing. The plot development is pretty bad, but the story doesn't end up being that much of a showcase of unbearable foolishness.

Sofia, our heroine, is a pretty worried when the story opens because her two friends had left the Academy (where they trained orphaned young ladies of the streets to become kick-ass ninja babes or something like that) and even got hitched during their first assignments. She, on the other hand, is still in the Academy, waiting for her chance to shine. Could it be that her teachers believe her to be a failure of some sort?

Well, lucky for her, she's getting what she is hoping for - she is soon sent to London to pose as the Italian Lady Sofia, Contesa della Silveri. Yes, she uses the same name as she uses when she is not undercover, but I guess we don't want these romance heroines to tax their brain cells too much. That's just one of the many befuddling instances in the plot, by the way. Our heroine is a novice with no field experience, so it makes sense that she is handpicked to go on this Mission of Utmost Importance. Hey, she has an associate to help her by playing the part of her beau, so it's not so bad, right? Sofia and her tutor/co-spy Marco have to infiltrate the Ton and discover who is corrupting innocent English blokes with information useful to French villains with temptations in places like gambling dens and brothels before killing off those lads.

Deverill Osborne is our hero who is the usual ex-soldier turned part-time spy and part-time fake rake type. He is intrigued by Sofia and is determined to learn her secrets, much to her dismay because she's on a serious mission and she doesn't want to be distracted by her libido.

The characters by themselves are likable if somewhat stereotypical, although Sofia defies convention considerably by being able to take care of herself when the going gets tough. However, Sofia also suffers from a typical trait prevalent among heroines of her kind: cluelessness. She reveals to Osborne without prompting that she is well-trained in the use of the rapier and she even knows a few ninja kung-fu tricks. Is this something you tell a person who is also determined to ferret out your secrets? Osborne also sneaks easily into her room, where he learns that Sofia has stupidly left enough things lying around in the open to have him suspect that she isn't what she claims to be. Perhaps I should be feeling relieved that it is Osborne and not the bad guy who is doing the snooping here?

These are just a few examples of the things in this story that has me wondering whether the instructors at the Academy were neglecting vital parts of the spy curriculum where poor Sofia is concerned. A significant part of the plot also revolves around Osborne suspecting that Sofia is not who she claims to be because he spots her tattoo - the one that all the ladies from the Academy have - and remembers some rumors he has heard in the past about women bearing such tattoo. And this leads me to the million dollar question: why oh why oh bloody why would be a bunch of spies sport identical identifiable tattoos located at easy-to-see places on their bodies?

As I've said, the characters are fine, their romance is okay, but really, shame about the plot being a spectacularly inept example of a spy tale. I'd like to give this story a higher score because it's well written, easy to read, and the characters are likable. But I just cannot overlook the horrendous lapses of logic in this plot, so sorry, dear Ms Pickens.

Rating: 59


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