Josiah Elliot is faced with a daunting task. He has returned to London from the war injured and suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome, resulting in occasional ‘spells’. When a spell takes hold he trembles uncontrollably and seems to lose coherent thought, making him behave oddly at inopportune moments.
Josiah has long loved a noblewoman, Lady Miranda Wesley, but can’t hope to marry her without proof that he is descended from nobility himself. Josiah knows that this proof exists in his family’s records and collection of historic artifacts. He seeks out his brother Nathaniel, who has possession of these things. But his brother, along with Nathaniel’s wife and two sons, have virtually disappeared without a trace and Josiah is helpless to produce the items he needs. Josiah and Miranda are no longer as young as they once were. Time is of the essence.
Josiah is posing as a gentleman’s valet in order to gain access to any possible information about his brother. Eager to help Josiah is his employer, Lord Blazingame. He knows Josiah’s true identity and graciously has adopted Josiah’s cause. Blazingame uses his rank in society to seek helpful information from members of the ton about the missing Elliots.
Lady Miranda Wesley has loved Josiah for many years. She wants only to be near him after their long separation and ultimately to marry him. Miranda is a free thinker and a partner in a business venture involving lavender-stuffed pillows, which are used by the gentry to alleviate headaches. She has traveled to town from her idyllic home outside London, ostensibly to help her niece be launched into society during the London season. Miranda sets up housekeeping in a rented place near where Josiah lives with Lord Blazingame. Her goal is to stop wasting time apart from Josiah and to bring matters with him to a head.
Living with Miranda are her companion and business partner, Miss Ariel Markum, and her faithful cook, Mrs. Harriet. Miranda is anxious to help Josiah prove his pedigree, but is prepared to marry him without this proof. Josiah is stubbornly determined to prove himself worthy of her, and also feels his health may be an obstacle to the union. Standing by to thwart the couple’s efforts to be together is Miranda’s oh-so-proper brother, the Duke of Comstock. Miranda becomes involved in the mystery surrounding Josiah, and tries to help him find the answers he seeks. Where are his brother and nephews? What is a huge but cursed jewel called the Heart of the Queen doing in her rented digs? And what does Josiah’s nasty cousin Marley have to do with it all? Will Josiah overcome his nervous affliction and be healthy again? (Can he shake “the shakes”, in other words?)
Obstacles and mysteries mount up and the plot scurries along-- at an almost frantic pace at times. Shall We Dance is a continuation of a story introduced in another book: My Fair Quiggley. One big problem with this book is that so much has happened to these characters in the other book, including the beginnings of the love relationship between Josiah and Miranda. I wanted to know more about that and felt a little cheated. They are now very much in love and are devoted to each other in a very chaste way, but they actually spend very little time together.
I kept having the feeling that I had started this book in the middle of the story. Allusions to Josiah’s shady past are made but details are not given. The place called Lavender Hill is significant to these people but it’s not clear why. There are standard Regency era references and name-dropping thrown in for good measure. While this may add to the adventurous atmosphere of the book, it failed to provide the romantic muscle that was needed. I would rather have seen more interaction between the loving couple.
I did enjoy some of the repartee throughout Shall We Dance, and appreciated the way the plot was propelled along by the dialogue. On the other hand the tone of the book is frivolous at times, and the outcome of the mystery completely predictable. In the end my strongest reaction to the book was basically disappointment.