The Smuggler Wore Silk by Alyssa Alexander

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After he is betrayed by one of his own, British spy Julian Travers, Earl of Langford, refuses to retire without a fight, vowing to find the traitor. But when the trail leads to his childhood home, Julian is forced to return to a place he swore he’d never see again, and meet a woman who may be his quarry—in more ways than one.

Though she may appear a poor young woman dependant on charity, Grace Hannah’s private life is far more interesting. By night, she finds friendship and freedom as a member of a smuggling ring. But when the handsome Julian arrives, she finds her façade slipping, and she is soon compromised, as well as intrigued.

As she and Julian continue the hunt, Grace finds herself falling in love with the man behind the spy. Yet Julian’s past holds a dark secret. And when he must make a choice between love and espionage, that secret may tear them apart

Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, January 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1813, Devon, England
Genre: Historical romance with suspense elements
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Julian Travers could care less about his title or his duty as the Earl of Langford. He’s a spy on a supposedly last mission that takes him reluctantly home to Devon to flush out a traitor. He has been gone twenty-three years after a painful event made him flee and never want to return. Known as “the Wandering Earl,” he vows to be nothing like the unfaithful men in his family, especially his philandering father, even though he feels he must resort to seducing information out of his quarry, Grace Hannah, in the name of the Crown.

Julian is a wonderful hero, one of the best I’ve ever read. He does not hesitate to do the honorable thing when he finds himself in a compromising situation with Grace. He grows to admire and love her, even though she is sharp-tongued, smart, and knowledgeable, an unusual combination for a woman of her day. His beautiful and heartfelt wedding gift to her only makes him even more attractive and his defense of her honor throughout the book is memorable.

Grace Hannah is sensible, efficient, and self-sufficient. A ward of her abusive uncle, she’s also the village apothecary and physician. She was jilted by her fiancé, Michael, who decided to marry someone else. Because of this, she is considered ruined in the eyes of village society. She feels most comfortable keeping to herself and doing her own thing, herbalism and smuggling. There are some lovely descriptions of landscape, plants, and herbs throughout the book, especially in Grace’s domain, the stillroom.

This independence and resourcefulness both fascinates and frustrates Julian and captures his interest beyond his carefully laid plans. She reminds me of Anne Elliot, the heroine from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, with her practicality and her consistent and unwavering kindness to others. Then again, she doesn’t exactly act like a lady because she doesn’t consider herself one. She rides astride a gorgeous black stallion named Demon, wears breeches, and is in close contact with smugglers in the village when she comes across suspicious papers in a delivery.

The compromise scene is one of the best scenes in the book and really drives home the terrible and precarious situation of women. In our twenty-first century era, we have NO idea what it was like. A vulnerable young woman was open to any unscrupulous man to take advantage, merely by being alone with her. “Would she have to leave Devon? Would she be required to live in London? On the Continent? In the end, she would be at the mercy of a man she knew nothing about.” (p100)

From the very beginning, there is an exciting and sizzling attraction between Grace and Julian. He is handsome, kind and honorable and she can’t help but be drawn to him. After they’re forced to marry, his love and affection are unwavering, something that amazes her since she feels free to finally be herself instead of what others expect her to be, and Julian likes her this way. And yet she doesn’t fully trust him – she doesn’t completely trust anybody – as his mysterious reputation precedes him and she, too, has secrets to hide.

Julian’s protectiveness of Grace is a joy to read; he feels her loneliness and it angers him when he discovers how cruelly her uncle treats her and how society shuns her for her broken engagement. This disturbs him as he’s supposed to be investigating her, not falling in love with her.

The secondary characters are strongly portrayed, especially Jack Blackbourn, a former smuggler accused of treason based on an actual person; Mrs. Wargell, Michael’s spiteful wife; Grace’s bully of an uncle, the kind of relative who takes in a poor relation and then never lets her forget it; and Grace’s sad and disillusioned friend, Marie, Lady Elliott.

This strong debut is filled with several memorable and poignant scenes: Grace’s palpable fears upon arrival at the church; the compromise scene in which Julian is ever the gentleman; the intrigues of the wedding breakfast; and Julian’s banishment and exorcism of his past.

The Smuggler Wore Silk is a wonderful and exciting story filled with tender emotion, suspense, action, and a vivid sense of time and place in history. I very much look forward to reading more from this author.

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