Secret-life shenanigans in 18th-century London.
Seventeen-year-old orphan Arista survives by helping her vile and violent employer blackmail the aristocracy. As the public face of their extortion racket, she slips in and out of costume balls to deliver messages to and collect payments from sleazy courtiers. When, in the line of duty, she crosses paths with an attentive masked stranger, they are both thrown by the force of the instant attraction between them. But the course of true love never did run smooth, and this romance rehashes many timeworn tropes en route to its inevitable happy ending. Arista as a character remains elusive; her inner life is essentially just a loop of vigilant worry, and the third-person perspective puts her at an additional remove. She’s street-smart, but is she intelligent? The novel might find an audience among readers who enjoy both the predictability of the romance genre and the warrior ferocity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the dialogue lacks the humor and warmth of the latter, and at times, the tale sags under the weight of its own overwrought exposition. Conversational anachronisms like “okay” and nagging plot holes—like how the nearly feral Arista can pass for middle-class in daily life—further disrupt the narrative momentum.
The overall effect is that the tale is underbaked; perhaps the planned sequel will help it set. (Romance. 12 & up)