I got a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher and the author via the NetGalley site – thank you very much! Of course that fact didn’t influence my opinion in any way.
Violet Marie Waterfield, the Countess of Cambury is a woman living a lie. She has no choice – in the Victorian era being a passionate scientist and being a woman simply excluded itself. Not to mention the fact that Violet’s area of research concerns inheritance of traits and reproduction – such delicate, un-ladylike topics. Even though she is a well-respected, wealthy widow and a peeress if she wants her reputation intact she must lie in public every single minute. Or at least avoid the truth like the plague.
Sebastian Malheur, a charming rake, is a man living a lie. He has no choice – he was asked to do so by Violet, the woman he’s been secretly infatuated with since he was sixteen and never stopped to love. For her sake he has to pretend he is a leading naturalist; he delivers her lectures and presents her scientific papers as his in Cambridge. Still it takes a heavy toll on him, not only because his own brother, Benedict, and indeed half of England despise him for his bold theories. The whole secret partnership is chaffing more and more because it hinders his prospects concerning Violet herself.
One day, after another dreadful lecture Sebastian has enough. He tells Violet he won’t pretend any longer although he wants to stay friends with her. Violet almost breaks down hearing the news – it seems she will have to give up the most important thing in her life, something she is naturally good at. Still scientists are strange people – where ordinary men see obstacles they see opportunities. Violet decides to fight for what she loves but will she be able to persuade Sebastian to help her once again? What arguments will she need this time?
A Milan romance is never something simple and I admit that’s why I love her books so much. Here we have an aristocratic female scientist as a protagonist – imagine that! – who, after a loveless marriage, tries to fly on borrowed wings, with the help of a man who has been loving her for about two decades or even longer.
Violet is a great heroine, deeply scarred and surrounded by people who are conniving and selfish to the core. Some of them are her closest relatives. I admit I was smitten instantly by the way the character of Lily, Violet’s sister, was presented maybe because I’ve had the bad luck of meeting such women in real life –charming and sweet, if not a bit vapid outside, cold, mercenary and cunning inside. Moving back to Violet – she has to learn to appreciate her own talents, even if they are frowned upon, to distinguish between selfishness and taking care of your interests. Love helps her to find her bearings and it is very sweet indeed. But. Yes, I know, the carping starts again. STILL.
I really didn’t know what to do with Mr. Sebastian Malheur, the alleged rake and Violet’s love interest. He reminded me a bit of that old saying: all bark, no bite. Mind you the barking was done mainly by the others. Plenty of people called him a rake in the novel but I didn’t get that vibes from him, not in the slightest. In fact he behaved most properly all the time. A rake wouldn’t wait months, even years, for a woman. A rake would go to town and amuse himself, making her jealous or disgusted, preferably both. Sebastian was so patient, so understanding and so attentive that, after a while you would like to bang some sense into Violet’s head in the most forcible manner and maybe also slip some mandrake root or other aphrodisiac into her cup of tea.
I suppose, and I might be wrong, that the author wanted to combine two contradictory personalities: a sexual predator, charming, dangerous, maybe even a bit lawless, very experienced in bed, and that sweet, protective, cuddly guy who makes you smile and who can be as patient as a saint. It didn’t work, at least not in my case. Violet I understood and even could relate to; Sebastian felt a tad spurious.
What else? The title ‘conspiracy’ was rather weak, officially announced in the blurb and at the beginning. I admit I waited for some other twist, something truly surprising, and I waited in vain. Still, while waiting I never got bored because following Violet scientific work, meeting evil Lily and Violet’s mother, a very devious lady, was a real treat. The ending left me smiling, although Violet’s career seemed to me most improbable – not at those times. Finally I love the cover – that colour and that dress!
Despite my ungodly carping, I have to admit that The Countess Conspiracy didn’t let me down; ok, maybe a tiny little bit – mainly the male lead. Although the Turner series was, in my opinion, the best Milan series so far, definitely better than the Brothers Sinister, any Milan romance book, full of great characters, written in an intelligent, amusing way, is a treat. As far as romance goes, of course.