Confessions of a Little Black Gown by Elizabeth Boyle
Confessions of a Little Black Gown is part of the series and apparently in the previous book (which I have not read) Thalia and her cousin, Philippa, rescued a dashing American privateer named Dashwell who had once been a friend of the British, but what with the War of 1812 and all, had turned rogue and warranted arrest and imprisonment. Now Lord Larken (whose first name is not revealed until 25 pages from the end) has been dispatched to the house part being thrown by Thalia sister, Felicity, Duchess of Hollindrake, to flush him out from wherever Philippa and Thalia are hiding him (and it really is fairly easy to guess). He goes in disguise as a cousin of the duke's who just happens to be a vicar, which is disturbing for our heroine as she finds herself incredibly drawn to the supposedly virtuous, bumpling, badly dress, country bumpkin. Due to some craziness on Felicity's part, Thalia's luggage had been lost and when the wrong trunk was returned to her she opened it to discover a seductive, and completely inappropriate, black widow's gown.
Our resourceful heroine knows from pretty much the beginning that the "vicar" is hiding his true identity, but she is unsure what that is until other, less important (amost ridiculously unimportant as to be a space waster) bring up the fact that Temple or Pymm (who probably were real leaders of England's spies as they appear in millions of romances) have sent someone to the house to root out Dashwell. Meanwhile Larken begins to wonder if the legendary "Order of the Black Lilly," a centuries old French ring (spies/ plotters/ courtesans) of woman who most don't believe exist, has something to do with Dashwell when he notices something (long story, rather boring sideplot). Larken knows they exist because they are at the root of his father's supposed treason and eventual death. When Thalia discovers that Larkin's mission is to not arrest, but kill, his one time close friend, she wonders if the two of them could ever have a future, but is still drawn to the idea of finding her own adventurer. Her cousin Philippa is madly in love with Dashwell, a love that is supposedly returned, and their's is a nice little sideplot, that provides the only slight glimmer of real angst in the book. So of course their is a big confrontation in the end, that does have a nice little surprise twist, but for the most part it follows by the book (including a chapter ending gunshot that we supposedly do not know who it hit). Their kissy-kissy ending is short, un-angsty, but ends nicely (with no Felicity in sight).
Most authors want to encourage their readers to read the other books in the series (and this is a part of a series) but I have to say that after reading this I have absolutely no desire to read the previous book in this series, Love Letters from a Duke. Despite the fact that much of the background for this book apparently took place in the previous book, Felicity comes across as such an awful person I plan to avoid even the next book in the series for fear of having to read about her bossiness, her meddling, and her all around general un-likability. Apparently Thalia loves her sister, as evidenced by the fact that she has not strangled her, but for the life of me I can not figure out why. Perhaps we are given reasons in Love Letters but I do not care to find out. A brief glimpse of her not being awful is given at the very end- but still a remarkably unlikable character. This is quite a shame as it is incredibly obvious that so much of what happens in this book was really set up in the previous book and we just fill in the holes. But the author does plan to continue Dashwell and Philippa's story is going to continue in a further addition to the series Memoires of a Scandalous Red Dress.
The author seemed as if she was trying to create angst, at least in the scene where Thalia is determined to "break up" with Larkin after their late night tryst, but it just comes across as pathetic, confussing, and altogether un-angsty. The only angst occurs in the side-plot of Philippa and Dashwell and even that is rather rushed. Their are precisely two scenes and while they were "good" they were definitely not "hot" as they just seemed to be missing something: maybe the lead in wasn't good enough and the characters just didn't seem to be that into each other. Lastly- this story takes place over 2, maybe 3 days! The characters meet, rescue a wrongly accused privateer, bring down the Order of the Black Lillies, and fall in love in 3 days! And the black gown the book is named for appears once- on the first night the two of them meet and while a fun little garden tryst does occur, their definitely could have been a little more steam and a little bit more actual wearing of the title "character." I didn't even really remember reading much about them falling in love or learning to like each other because the crazy Dashwell/ Black Lilly (side-plot) was just too overwelming and just covered everything else. But the cover is certainly very well done.
Rating: This was a mediocre spy novel and a terrible romance novel. Oddly enough I look forward to reading Red Dress in the hopes that there's far less spying and much more loving.