3.5 out of 5 stars
Her life was looking less and less like one of Miss Austen’s novels and more and more like an utter mess.
Review copy provided by the publisher through Edelweiss.
Now that her elder sister has married, Lady Victoria Aston is free to enjoy her idyllic country manor lifestyle knowing that the family estate has been secured. With her sister in London and her once exiled best friend avoiding her, Vicky spends her time roaming their estate in a stolen pair of breeches and hiding away with one of Miss Austen’s novels. When the unspeakable happens, Vicky is thrust into the centre of the Season with one goal: Find a husband to save her family. With Miss Austen’s books as her guide and the spirit of Lizzie Bennett in her soul, Vicky must learn to navigate London’s marriage mart without breaking her heart. Is roguish Mr Carmichael as charming as he seems? Does childhood friend Tom Sherborne mean well, or is he after Vicky’s dowry? As if all that isn’t enough, Vicky finds herself the victim of a series of increasingly unfortunate accidents that make her wonder if someone wants to stop her from ever walking down the aisle.
By this point, I hope I have established just how much I love *Regency novels. I just love the adventure, romance and drama between all the dance halls, carriage rides and ribbon stores. I was so pleased to be granted an ARC of Dangerous Alliance, which promised to be an Austentatious Novel, with a heroine who loves Jane Austen’s books as much as the average Regency reader. Vicky often took time out of her adventure to comment on similarities between her life and that of any number of Austen’s heroines. This sometimes felt a bit forced (“Tonight I must act as Fanny Price”) and instead of Vicky feeling relatable, it had me cringing. There is one point in the story where a character compares her brother to Mr Darcy – to everyone’s agreement – which didn’t seem to match what we had seen of him. While I appreciate the sentiment that Fandom has been a thing for a long time, the characters all standing around comparing themselves to romance characters felt a bit weird. That being said, I did this myself as a 17-year-old so who am I to judge?
Dangerous Alliance is told through the dual perspectives of Victoria Aston and Thomas Sherborne. Vicky and Tom were childhood friends whose relationship ended after a confrontation led to Tom’s exile to the Swiss countryside. While Tom and Vicky were likeable enough characters, I didn’t enjoy these dual perspectives at all. For me, it felt like this took away any ambiguity the story tries to sew as to who Victoria’s love interest is as it is fairly obvious from the start that the two characters will end up together. I also felt that there was some incongruity between the stories the two were telling. Where Vicky’s read as an age-appropriate teenage adventure of a country girl navigating Society, Tom’s read as a more adult novel, not the fun kind of adult novel. More the kind about taxes, laws and business ventures. I quickly found myself bored with Tom’s story and I feel like it didn’t add much to the story.
The romance was, well, a bit predictable. We are told early on that the main character sees herself as a Lizzie Bennett type and our love interest is soon after compared to Mr Darcy himself. While this is changed up a bit with the characters being childhood friends with a mysterious incident in their past that changed everything, there’s not much else to say for this dynamic – he’s curt to the point of rudeness and she’s oblivious of his affections. The characters are fun together but for a book that tries to leave some mystery in Vicky’s love life, it is fairly obvious which way it is going to go from very early on.
The secondary cast of characters was a comfortable collection of historical character types – the charming villain, the plucky orphan, the indebted aristocrat and entitled snob. They helped flesh out Cohen’s ton and helped facilitate the rumour and miscommunication that the genre demands. I enjoyed these characters, but I feel like none really stood out as an interesting character in their own right.
As for the setting, Dangerous Alliance hits all the notes for a great Regency novel, with dashing rogues, foul brutes, flirtatious dancing and a dramatic finale that should appeal to any Regency fan, but something that stood out to me in Cohen’s writing was her attention to detail in an unexpected area – Regency marriage and divorce laws. Cohen has clearly done her research into this, and it was something I was surprised to find myself fascinated by in the early chapters of the book. I’m not sure I’ve read a book that really delves into these historical laws and issues and I wish the book had spent more time on them. Though I suppose I could do my own research, I loved how Cohen incorporated this information into the story and in her appendix at the end.
This all sounds quite negative, doesn’t it? I don’t mean for it to. While Dangerous Alliance brings very little to the table that hasn’t been done in YA Regency fiction, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the ridiculous London Society. Yes, it was a bit cliche and a bit cringy at times but I think that comes with the genre. Cohen has written a really fun novel that should appeal to Austen fans – if only so they can argue with Vicky’s assessment of your favourite Austen’s characters!
*Throughout this review I refer to Dangerous Alliance as a Regency novel which isn’t exactly true. Cohen mentions in her notes that this is an Edwardian novel but I am prone to over and misusing the “Regency” label and too lazy to change it so Regency it shall remain!