Lord of Illusions is without a doubt the strangest Signet Regency I have ever read. Readers who have certain expectations of the Signet line will probably have one of two reactions. Either they'll think, "What an unusual plot premise for a Regency romance", or they'll think, "What IS this?" I was caught somewhere in the middle.
The story opens with the Duke of Wellington ruing the fact that he didn't listen to his personal mage, a sorcerer who warned him of an impending storm. The troops are trapped, and only a heroic action by Damien, Lord Wodesby, saves them. It costs Damien his magical powers, though.
Shift to France, where Rowan, Comtesse Du Le Fey (get it? Fey?) is returning to her late husband's home to deliver his things to her stepson, Etienne. The late Comte was a powerful sorcerer, one who abducted Rowan as a child and forced her into a painful marriage. Rowan is no slouch herself in the magical powers department, but she's never been trained to use them. Instead, she holds the somewhat honorary title of Mistress of Witches of all France.
Etienne abducts Rowan's daughter and forces Rowan to spy in the home of a wealthy Englishman by posing as a governess. It is there she meets Damien, who is disguised as a simple illlusionist named Oberon, travelling with a band of Gypsies. Damien has also come to the house of Sir Hector Southwood to find out who is leaking information to the French. Mrs. Penham, demure governess, causes alarm bells to ring in Damien's mind. She is not all she seems.
Meanwhile, there's a powerful book of sorcery waiting in the library, one that can corrupt Damien forever if he lets it. Rowan senses its power and is determined not to let anyone be harmed by it.
Quite frankly, while I admire the author for trying something new, this story would have stood alone better as a Regency-set historical romance. Other than the setting, there was nothing of a Regency in it. The manners and mores of the day don't signify in the slightest, the dialogue is more fantasy than Regency, and the head Gypsy woman, to be honest, sounds more like an incarnation of Yoda than anything else. Here's an example:
"Help you, I will, if I can, but mighty powers you trade with, forces you do not understand…"
There are also dark undercurrents of rape and forced submission in Rowan's past. This story just doesn't seem to fit the Signet Regency line. Even the cover is a misfit, with its happy-looking Regency couple, all smiles and roses.
It's also fairly ponderous. Damien and Rowan dance around each other, but the sexual tension didn't strike me as anything but minimal. Rowan has latent powers, and I expected the author to do something with them, but they never really figure into the story and she never develops her talent. It seemed a waste. There is much angst and soul-searching on Rowan's part as she broods over the mysterious Oberon. It didn't move me.
On the other hand, the subject of sorcery is always an intriguing plot device, and Damien is an intriguing guy. I found him a lot more interesting than Rowan. If the author had been able to deepen the sorcery aspect, rather than conforming to the fairly short Regency format, it would have been a much more captivating read. I wanted more background on Rowan. I wanted to see both Rowan and Damien use these powers.
It's hard to know what to say about Lord of Illusions. It's a book that was probably mis-marketed; it has many more threads of the supernatural fantasy than the Regency. As a romance, it was mildly interesting but not enchanting. Guess that's the bottom line.