Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review: A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde

Title: A Useful Woman (Rosalind Thorne Mysteries #1)
Author: Darcie Wilde
Genre: Historical fiction | Regency| Romance | Mystery | Cozy | Female sleuth
Page length: 368 pages
Publisher: Berkeley
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Source: Library
Format: Paperback
Author's website:

Inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, this new mystery series set in 19th-century London introduces the charming and resourceful Rosalind Thorne, a woman privy to the secrets of high society—including who among the ton is capable of murder... The daughter of a baronet and minor heiress, Rosalind Thorne was nearly ruined after her father abandoned the family. To survive in the only world she knew, she began to manage the affairs of some of London society’s most influential women, who have come to rely on her wit and discretion.  So, when artistocratic wastrel Jasper Aimesworth is found dead in London’s most exclusive ballroom, Almack’s, Rosalind must use her skills and connections to uncover the killer from a list of suspects that includes Almack’s powerful patronesses and her former suitor Devon Winterbourne, now Lord Casselmaine. Torn between her old love and a growing attraction to a compelling Bow Street runner, Rosalind must not only unravel the mysteries surrounding Jasper’s death, but the mysteries of her own heart as well... Goodreads

The plot: The book opens with Rosalind Thorne's privileged life crashing down around her. Her father and older sister have fled in the middle of the night, leaving Rosalind and her mother to face his disgrace (and his debt-collectors). Due to her mother's inability to deal with the situation, it is up to Rosalind to eke out a living for them. Luckily, her godmother, Lady Blanchard, takes them in, and under her protection, Rosalind uses both her connections and her knowledge of the inner workings of society to provide various (discreet) services to London's wealthiest and most influential women.

Fast-forward five years later, and Rosalind has left the Blanchards' care and has set up a household of her own. However, she is soon drawn back into the games that the truly wealthy play, a game that leads to the death of Jasper Aimesworth.

While waiting for her beloved godmother, Rosalind discovers the young aristocrat's body in the hallowed halls of fashionable Almack, a place he had no business being in. Jasper's death is quickly hushed up and labeled an unfortunate accident, but Rosalind senses there's more to the story, as does Honoria Aimesworth, sister of the victim. Honoria enlists Rosalind's help to find Jasper's killer, to which she reluctantly agrees.

As Rosalind uncovers more and more secrets, it's becoming dangerously obvious that those she counts among her nearest and dearest also have things to hide, and they'll do anything to prevent these skeletons from tumbling out...

The characters: Rosalind Thorne is a disgraced woman, living on the fringes of society. Her tact and intelligence, as well as her connection to Lady Blanchard, are all that keeps her among the gentlefolk. Some of her acquaintances question her decision to cling to her gentility, despite the fact that there are other avenues available to her. Rosalind has her reasons, though she's loathe to admit it (even to herself).

 Honoria Aimesworth is brash, impulsive, and honest (almost to a fault). I found her rather admirable, though I can see how these traits are problematic for a woman of those times. Her mother is overbearing, constantly trying to smother her with rules and what is or isn't done. All she wants is to break free from this oppressive force in her life.

Devon Winterbourne, now Lord Casselmaine, is Rosalind's former lover and Honoria's fiancee (whaaaat?). He was the second son and had little pretension or ambition for more. The death of his unruly brother, which then lead to the death of his father, means that he is now the sole heir and his station in life has changed. Despite all this, he still clings to the hope that someday, he and Rosalind will be together.

Adam Harkness is the Bow Street Runner (AKA cop, for those of us not versed in Regency terms) that is assigned to the case and provides a good look at another kind of life for Rosalind. He brings a good bit of romantic tension and drama, closing out the love triangle between Devon, Rosalind, and himself.

The mystery: This book is rather slow moving for a mystery, focusing very heavily on the historical aspect. I quite enjoyed those parts, but it's good to know what to expect going in. I wasn't baffled by the mystery for the entirety of the book, but there were enough twists and turns to keep me sufficiently satisfied in this department.

Final bite: Despite the length, I found that I really enjoyed this book. The characters were (for the most part) interesting and complex, and I'm already looking forward to the next book in the series. Just a warning: if you're a serious history buff or prefer a more straightforward mystery, this might not be for you. If you think of this as a light historical romance with a bit of mystery thrown in, you'll have the proper context and it enjoy it as much as I did.

Rating: 4.5/5

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