The Secret Service of Tea and Treason

Berkley. (Dangerous Damsels, Bk. 3). Apr. 2023. 368p. ISBN 9780593547267. pap. $17. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Mix Julia Quinn at her musical recital best with Tuesday Next, Stardust, and Get Smart, and the result is this Victorian-set fantasy/thriller/romance blend. Alice Dearlove is a prim, proper, top-notch operative. Daniel Bixby is a staring-down-villains (and stewards) master spy. When they infiltrate a pirate country house party, on the hunt for a rogue secret weapon, they find themselves with more to talk about than operational plans. Holton and her characters Alice and Daniel are autistic, and she deftly crafts details and scenes that highlight these character identities as parachute petticoats deploy. As Daniel’s past shows up for the party, and Alice starts to think of a new future, even swords over tea and crossbows in the portrait gallery offer little distraction. Madcap it may be, but there are also stark moments where Alice and Daniel’s abusive childhoods are referenced in heartbreaking ways, and the thriller aspect of the story turns icy cold indeed.
VERDICT Witty, deeply clever, and read-it-like-you-just-robbed-some-pirates fast. Those who have been with the books from the start (the last installment was The League of Gentlewomen Witches) will be gleeful, and those finding them now will immediately want to read back. Flying houses ahoy, buy in bulk.
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