Winter 1763. Alec, Lord Halsey, is sent on a diplomatic mission to Midanich, imperial outpost of the Holy Roman Empire, to bargain for the freedom of imprisoned friends. Midanich is a place of great danger and dark secrets - a country at civil war, ruled by a family with madness in its veins. For Alec it is a place of unspeakable memories from which he barely escaped and vowed never to return. But return he must if he is to save the lives of Emily St. Neots and Sir Cosmo Mahon. In a race against time, Alec and the English delegation journey across the icy wasteland for the castle fortress where Emily and Cosmo are imprisoned. The severe weather is as much an enemy as the soldiers of the opposing armies encamped along the way. Awaiting him at his destination is the Margrave and his sister, demanding nothing less than Alec's head on a pike.
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Wow! Just wow! This has to be Lucinda Brant's best
I adored this book, but it is difficult to review for several reasons. First, it is the third volume of the Alex Halsey Mystery series, and the first two books contain a lot of highly relevant backstory. Unlike some series, this one really needs to be read in order. Moreover, there are so many twists, turns, and surprises throughout the story that it is virtually impossible to write a thorough review without spoilers. (The publisher's blurb simply sets up what we learn in the first few chapters.) And finally, this book, and indeed the entire series, is so wonderful that I want you to read for yourself without any hints that I might throw out in my review.
One of the things that I have come to admire about Lucinda Brant's writing is how intricately layered her plots are. She reveals things throughout the story, which keeps the reader from becoming frustrated, but also holds back enough that the ending always is a surprise. She has the ability to deftly combine mystery and romance into one big delightful package that will please fans of both genres.
So – rather than writing a typical review, I'm going to tell you a bit about the series and what I loved about this book, starting with the primary cast of characters who populate all three books.
Alec Halsey – the younger son of the Earl of Devlin, Alec Halsey chose to make his living as a diplomat. He is a truly swoon-worthy romantic hero: handsome, intelligent, somewhat enigmatic, intensely honorable, and decidedly his own man. After the death of Alec's odious elder brother, Alec became the earl but he soon was elevated to a marquessate by the King in recognition of his services to the Crown.
Emily St. Neots – a beautiful, spirited young lady whom Alec had once thought to marry, although he was not deeply in love with her.
Selina Jameson-Lewis – the woman with whom Alec fell deeply in love at a young age. Her family thwarted their romance and forced her into a marriage with an older, cruelly abusive man. Selina is now a widow, but she an Alec have had to deal with some difficulties while rekindling the love that both of them still feel for one another.
The Duchess of Romney-St. Neots – a redoubtable old lady who is Alec's godmother and also Emily's grandmother. Nothing and nobody intimidates her.
Plantagenet Halsey – Alec's uncle and an outspoken member of the House of Commons, who despite his noble connections is something of a republican happy to offer his opinions freely. He is more of a father to Alec than Alec's actual father ever was (and there is a story behind that). He and the Duchess of Romney-St. Neots have a tetchy relationship (and there may be a story behind that too).
Sir Cosmo Mahan – Alec's closest friend, Sir Cosmo is rotund, jovial, and loyal to those he loves. He is a cousin to both Emily St. Neots and Selena Jameson-Lewis.
As the book opens, Alec is emotionally reeling after Selena rejected his proposal of marriage. Then he learns that Emily and Sir Cosmo, who are touring Europe, have been detained and imprisoned by the new Margrave of Midanich, Prince Ernst. Ten years before the events in this book, Alec was a junior official in Midanich, a small principality in the Holy Roman Empire. For reasons that I cannot divulge, he was thrown in the ruler's reputedly escape-proof dungeon, from which he did in fact escape. Now, the Margrave demands that Alec return to Midanich to negotiate for the release of his friends. Although Alec fears that his life could be in danger, his honor and his affection for his friends demand that he go.
Midanich is in the midst of a civil war, following the death of the old Margrave, with Prince Ernst under attack by his younger half-brother Prince Viktor. Ernst is a weak, unstable man, known to be under the influence of his mysterious, insane twin sister Princess Joanna. In the opening chapter, it appears that Joanna hastens the old Margrave's death by placing a pillow over his face. Castle Herzfeld, Prince Ernst's impregnable fortress, is a hotbed of intrigue; courtiers await developments, but nobody can truly trust anyone, and the prince's desires are often irrational and unpredictable. The plight of the people of Midanich is dire; this civil war follows years of occupation by foreign troops in connection with the Seven Years' War. As winter approaches, they face shortages of food and fuel, and Prince Ernst's army maintains control with draconian ruthlessness.
Alec's trip is fraught with peril, and his plans for a discreet arrival in Midanich are thwarted when both the Duchess of Romney-St. Neots and Selena Jameson-Lewis, as well as Alec's Uncle Plantagenet, finagle their way into his party. As a further complication, the Foreign Minister is sending Sir Gilbert Parsons as an official emissary to accompany Alec. Parsons was Alec's superior when they were posted to Midanich ten years earlier, and when Alec was imprisoned Parsons was expelled from the country. Parsons returned to London in disgrace and still blames Alec for ruining his career. Thus, although Alec is now an experienced diplomat and a marquess to boot, Parsons insists upon treating Alec as his subordinate in all things.
When this ill-assorted party arrives in Midanich, the adventures begin, and the first astounding event occurs shortly after they get off of the boat. To reveal more would deprive the reader of enjoying the myriad twists and turns that follow. As a long-time fan of the mystery genre, I must say that the plotting is impeccable. Midanich is full of intrigue; there were so many developments that I simply did not anticipate, yet none of them was the least bit implausible. There is a touch of romance here, as well, as Alec and Selena begin to find their way back to one another in a most surprising manner.
Novels that convey a strong sense of place have long been a favorite of mine, and in this regard the author's impeccable research impresses beyond description. The bleak winter landscape, along with the accompanying sights and sounds, utterly transport the reader to another time and place. Not everything is left to the imagination, however, and I commend the reader to Ms. Brant's delightful Pinterest page full of images displaying things mentioned in the book – including castles, clothing, furniture, horses, and various accoutrements of late 18th century life.
Although Lucinda Brant has been publishing books for several years, my first encounter with her work was a mere five months ago, and I have now read all nine of her full-length books. Every one of them is worthy of five stars, but I think that Deadly Peril is possibly the best yet. It is, quite simply, a perfect combination of mystery, romance, and history.