Romance readers who want a story set in a time period no mainstream
publisher will touch should order up a copy of The Lion's Shadow.
Its unusual setting (turn of the century) and intriguing characters,
coupled with a lively and suspenseful romance, make this a pleasurable read.
Cassandra Whitney, independently wealthy spinster, has joined the Women's
Suffrage Union, partly out of interest in their cause, partly as a possible
cure for her ennui. When we first meet her, she is attempting to chain
herself to a fence outside Kensington House, where the annual Hospital Ball
is about to get underway with the Prince and Princess of Wales in
attendance. The suffragettes hope that such a public demonstration will
bring attention to their cause. Cassandra, however, is merely struggling
to get the chain through the fence when she is knocked off her feet and
lands right on top of a man in formal evening clothes.
This distraction proves to be enough to prevent Cassandra's arrest with the
other suffragettes, and she leaves the demonstration feeling like a
failure. The next day, as Cassandra visits with her Aunt Caroline and her
smarmy cousin Freddy, a political acquaintance of her uncle comes to call,
bringing his family. One of them turns out to be Griffin St. John, noted
explorer and Cassandra's man-in-the-mud. The two immediately strike
sparks. Griffin maintains that women don't possess enough sense to be able
to vote; Cassandra vehemently disagrees. Before long they are shouting at
each other across the drawing room, much to the horror of their families.
But from sparks come a flame: for Griffin, a flare of interest in this
strong-minded woman who faces him squarely; for Cassandra, a spark of
awareness like none she's felt before.
Matters complicate when Griffin's younger sister, Helena, returns to
Cassandra's home and asks to be involved in the suffragette cause. Against
Cassandra's better judgment, they attend a meeting and on the way home are
accosted by two men who steal Cassandra's handbag. Helena proves to be
made of stern stuff, and will not be dissuaded from joining the cause.
Soon other, more sinister events take place. Someone is out to destroy the
suffragettes by whatever means necessary. Will Helena and Cassandra fall
victim? Or can Griffin protect them?
Griffin and Cassandra are so carefully drawn they are almost larger than
life. Griffin, who finds all his preconceived notions of womanhood
challenged by this defiant beauty, is at first resentful, then confused,
then besotted. At last, a woman who can match his stubbornness and his
sense of adventure with one of her own. Cassandra, thirtyish, must
rearrange her own notions of love and romance now that she has met a man
who will not back down, but in fact thrives on their heated exchanges.
The mystery was a little less engrossing, though quite adept. The story
dragged a bit in the middle, and there's a trace of Big Misunderstanding
that may irk a few readers. Seems even the noble Griffin can engage in a
fit of the sulks. The secondary characters are well-rounded, though, and
the overall pacing is brisk. The Lion's Shadow is just the ticket
for readers who are feeling a bit of Cassandra's ennui. Marthe Arends has
crafted a witty, stylish romance with a lively dash of suspense. Avid
Press is to be commended for bringing this story into print. Small presses
do indeed have a lot to offer.