Athena’s Conquest suffers from an improbable and confusing plot. Even an attractive heroine and a dashing hero cannot compensate for a weak storyline. There was just too much here that didn’t quite make sense.
Athena Montgomery has come to Bath to “chaperone” her younger sister Cassiopeia and to serve as companion to her elderly aunt. As their names suggest, the two are daughters of two intellectuals who prefer to remain on their Irish estate rather than take their place in society. Athena shares her parents’ scholarly bent; Cass is the beauty of the family who is expected marry well. That she has been sent to Bath rather than London is the first questionable development. Clearly, as the niece of Lady Castlereagh, she would have had an entree into the ton. But I guess the book had to be set in Bath, so there the two sisters go.
One afternoon, while visiting a bookshop, Athena encounters the handsome Frenchman, M. Solage. She meets him later at the Pump Room. M. Solage is a bit of a mystery man. He claims to be the godson of the reclusive Lord Falk. But his nationality causes considerable gossip. Is he a French spy? Of course, since as the story begins, Napoleon is ensconced on Elba, why would anyone so identify him? Later, the charge seems more possible, although what a French spy would be doing in Bath is another question. Perhaps the author merely intends to demonstrate the gossipy nature of small town society.
Indeed, M. Solage is a mystery, at least to this reader. He is apparently employed by the Department of Commerce [sic] to ferret out some kind of embezzlement. But he also seems to be an operative of Lord Castlereagh and is busy traveling back and forth to London with messages for Lord Falk. Trust me, the reasons for this activity are puzzling.
Moreover, M. Solage’s background is murky, at least as it is revealed to the reader. Apparently his mother was English, but he was raised in France. However, he became unhappy with the course of events in his country and decided to throw his lot in with Britain at some time in the past. This change of allegiance is never fully explained.
However, M. Solage is charming and witty. All the young Bath misses are quite taken with the mysterious Frenchman. M. Solage begins to pay attention to the lovely Cass, but soon realizes that her older sister is much more interesting. Athena cannot imagine that so handsome a fellow as M. Solage could be interested in her, while M. Solage is reluctant to court Lord Castlereagh’s niece.
Added complications arise in the persons of Sophia and Charles Welborne. Athena befriends the brother and sister, but Aunt Montie keeps expressing doubts about their respectability while M. Solage likewise keeps hinting that they are not to be trusted. And then there is the list of important names that Athena finds in a book M. Solage lends her.
Could he really be a spy?
I really kind of liked Athena. She is a bright young woman who has always been overshadowed by her lovely young sister. Her uncertainty about M. Solage’s intentions and her dawning appreciation for the man behind the charming facade ring true. And how can one not like a hero who prefers brains to beauty?
Still, an attractive hero and heroine cannot compensate for a messy and unsatisfactory story. Athena’s Conquest lost this reader very early on.