Secrets lurk around every corner in this second book in Shute’s (After Midnight, 2014) ongoing historical-fiction series.
Alix Saint-Descoteaux is striving to build a winning thoroughbred stable in 1830s Britain, but the intrigues of life keep getting in the way. For example, in the series’ first volume, she ended up switching places with her scheming twin sister, Lily, who’d married Sir Nicholas Griffon. Complicating matters was the fact that Nicholas was in love with Alix, even after the subterfuge was revealed. In this installment, her uncle Quenton arrives, determined to move her and her horse-racing operation from the estate of the affable Sir Robert Gordon back to their ancestral home in France. Quenton isn’t concerned with what Alix or Nicholas or anyone else thinks of his plan. It’s not an easy venture, though, given the logistics of moving all the horses and attendants across the English Channel. But there’s another obstacle in the forms of Count Claude Rouget and his henchman, Drago, who have nefarious plans for Alix once she gets to France; they conspire to kidnap her and her champion horse during the ship’s unloading. The abduction goes awry, though, and Alix, atop her steed Midnight Star, finds herself lost in the French countryside. Overall, Shute has created a dense adventure. Even with the extensive backstory included here, it’s sometimes difficult to follow what came before; reading the first book will undoubtedly make this one read more smoothly. Also muddying the narrative is the fact seemingly everyone has a secret life: Quenton originally worked undercover as a horseman in Nicholas’ stables before revealing his noble lineage, for instance; Drago has a connection to Alix of which he’s unaware. Still, if the reader is willing to ride along with Shute’s onrushing narrative flow, it’s a rollicking read. Alix is a winning heroine, and Shute expertly leaves each character positioned for new experiences in the planned third volume.
An overly detailed but still thrilling European escapade.