Jan 24 2012 9:30am

Fresh Meat: Anna Randol’s A Secret in Her Kiss (January 31, 2012)

A Secret in Her Kiss by Anna Randol

A Secret in Her Kiss
Anna Randol
Avon (January 31, 2012), $7.99

A rare beauty, raised in the exotic heart of the mysterious East, Mari Sinclair knows it’s time to end her career as a British spy when she narrowly avoids a brush with death. Unfortunately, there are those who think otherwise—and they are not above using blackmail to keep Mari in the game.

Saddled with a handsome, duty-obsessed “minder” to ensure that she completes—and survives—one last mission, Mari is incensed . . . for her guardian, Major Bennett Prestwood, is simply too dedicated, too unbending, and too disarmingly attractive. But in the face of dark secrets and deadly treacheries, as the true peril to Mari is slowly revealed, loyal soldier Bennett realizes that to save and win this extraordinary woman, he will have to do the unthinkable and break the rules—rules that passion and desire have suddenly, irrevocably changed.

A Secret in Her Kiss, Anna Randol’s debut, daringly takes a Regency-era story and sets it in Constantinople and its environs. This could not have been an easy sell, but Randol steps up to the plate and gives the reader a story in which the setting not only plays a significant role, but is vibrantly depicted.

The story begins right after Waterloo and in Belgium. We start with a vivid view of the docks of Ostend from the point of view of our hero, Bennett Prestwood, and in sharp contrast to the battlefield he has left behind.

He drew a deep breath. The docks of Ostend stank. They stank of fish and filth. He inhaled again. But the breeze didn’t reek of decaying human flesh covered in lye. And it didn’t carry the screams of the wounded.

Bennett intends to take a ship to England, but is abruptly reassigned to protect Mari Sinclair, an unwilling British spy in Constantinople. Also unwilling, Bennet nevertheless follows orders and arrives at his destination.

He still couldn’t think of words to adequately describe the city of Constantinople spread out beneath them. The city resembled nothing so much as an aging courtesan’s dressing room table, overflowing with rouge pots and cream jars and a few candlesticks interspersed throughout.

Although not as naturalistic as the earlier description of Ostend, this fanciful picture of Constantinople manages to convey the colorful disarray of the city.

Later we get a more realistic view of the streets of Constantinople as Bennett scouts the city.

By the time he reached the street, the crowds had cleared, driven inside by the afternoon heat. Instead, veiled women leaned out of second-story windows and called to one another across the alleys. Doves crooned their incessantly gentle notes from the tops of lush green cypress trees. Through the gaps between the houses, an occasional glimpse of the waters of the Bosporus beckoned.

This lovely passage includes visual, aural and tactile description, an admirable combination of sensory stimuli folded into an evocative paragraph.

When Bennet accompanies Mari on a trip out of the city to a site she wants to sketch, the description of where they stop for a picnic lunch includes an equally rich evocation of the senses.

She moved into the shade of a small grove. The waxy green leaves provided only a few degrees of relief, but after the long hike, it seemed an incredible luxury. Mari tipped back her head and inhaled. The pungent, sweet smell of the leaves dripped from the trees and tingled over her. Her tired muscles eased. She caressed a smooth, gray trunk. Strange, sandalwood trees grew all over Constantinople and the scent had never affected her so.

Later in the book you’ll find out what it is about sandalwood.

And lest you think Ms. Randol has restricted her excellent powers of description to the Turkish countryside, let’s read as Bennett pays a visit to the pasha.

The main entry hall of the pasha’s home was immense, easily outstripping most London ballrooms. Ornate script decorated archways and window frames. Gold shimmered in the intricate filigree, intermixed with the red and blue tile work on the walls. A thick Persian rug shiled the white marble floor.

You can almost see it, can’t you? And herein lies the strength of Anna Randol’s description and, no doubt, explains why she was able to successfully write a Regency-era novel set in the Ottoman Empire. When she describes the country, its people, its buildings, its landscape, its sights and sounds and smells, she allows you into the world she has chosen and makes you feel as though you have really been there.


Myretta is the co-founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta

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