This must be my month for compelling heroines. First, there was Kim
Headlee’s unique characterization of Guineviere in Dawnflight and
now there’s Taylor Chase’s Vivian Swift, one of most unusual heroines I
have come across in a long, long time. If you like strong women who
succeed in a man’s world in a completely believable manner, then you’ll
appreciate Vivian. And, oh yes, the hero is perfectly marvelous as
The year is 1586 and Rafe Fletcher has returned from the war in the
Netherlands because his grandfather and cousin have been accused of
treason. The guns that the family company have provided to the English
forces prove to be defective. In the poisonous atmosphere of the day --
the Babington plot against Elizabeth has just been uncovered -- neither
Rafe’s grandfather’s noble title nor Puritan beliefs are any proof
against the charge that the Earl of Exeter has conspired with the
Rafe seeks the assistance of his best friend, Sir Gabriel Darren, an
agent working for Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen’s intelligence
chief. Gabriel believes that the secret of who has framed the earl lies
among the denizens of London’s underworld. But before he can reveal the
evidence he has uncovered, Gabriel is murdered. So Rafe joins
Walsingham’s forces, charged with infiltrating the organization of
Nicholas and Vivian Swift, who control crime in the area of Southwark
called the Klink.
The Swifts were forced into lives of crime because they murdered their
guardian, the Earl of Mortmain, who was abusing Nicholas and proposed to
turn his attention to the then fourteen-year-old Vivian. In the fifteen
years since they fled their beloved home, they had, through
intelligence, guile and daring, risen to the top of the London
Rafe manages to catch Vivian’s attention, both because of his skills as
a fighter and because of his imposing person. Vivian is drawn to her
new bodyguard, partly because she is losing her brother to his lover,
the actor, Ambrose Piper. Vivian senses that there is more depth to
Rafe than the men she has previously known. For his part, Rafe is
fascinated by Vivian, by her passion, courage, bravery and beauty. The
sexual tension sizzles and the love scenes fully warrant the R rating.
(I seriously considered an NC-17.)
Obviously, the conflict is real and telling. To save his family and his
queen, Rafe must betray the woman he is coming to love. Is Vivian in
fact caught up in treason, or is someone setting her up just as they set
up Rafe’s family?
Vivian may not be every reader’s cup of tea. No virginal innocent, she
has had to be ruthless to survive. As “Queen of the Klink,” she has no
hesitation about shedding blood to protect her kingdom. She is used to
being in control, both in life and in love.
Rafe is a true match for this strong woman. He can accept her past, yet
maintain his own values. He will do what is right, even at great
Chase has also provided a cast of strong secondary characters, both real
and fictional. We meet the queen herself as well as Walsingham,
Christopher Marlowe, and even, if briefly, a play maker named Will. (In
fact, we see where the idea for Hamlet comes from.) We get to
know the denizens of Vivian’s kingdom, cutpurses, thieves, bawds, and
others who live on the wrong side of the law. And, Chase has created
truly villainous villains who, motivated by greed and fanaticism, seek
to murder the queen and throw the kingdom into turmoil.
The romance plays out against a rich historical tapestry. Chase
recreates Elizabethan England with a sure touch. From the corridors of
Whitehall to the theaters and brothels of Southwark, the author vividly
paints a portrait of this colorful era. She effectively uses the
politically charged atmosphere of the day to enrich her tale.
Heart of Deception has everything a fan of fast-paced historical
romance could want. There are brawls, swordfights, murders, betrayals,
revenge, treason, last-minute rescues -- and a marvelous romance between
two strong people whose love must surmount daunting barriers.
I have often wondered why there are not more romances set in Elizabethan
England. This is a richly romantic era, an exciting and colorful time
with lots of potential for the romance author. Chase has captured it
brilliantly. Heart of Deception is a fascinating and absorbing
romance, one that I will want to revisit more than once.