At first, this book seems rather similar to Castle Of The Wolf by Sandra Schwab: on-the-shelf spinster travels to central Europe to meet - and marry - a man she hasn't met before, a German-speaking man who is titled and has a castle. However, the differences between these two books become apparent fairly quickly, although they're both equally good. The heroine of this book is the daughter of a Cit, a man who has made money through fabric-making and wants to elevate his daughter to the aristocracy. Money can't buy everything, however, and despite Alcyone Carter being beautiful and having a huge dowry, she smells too much of the shop for the English nobles. Thus her father arranges a marriage for her with Benedek János, a Baron from Austria who can offer her six months of the year in Vienna as well as a title. Alcyone travels to meet him, expecting a slow courtship and eventual marriage when they know each other well enough; instead, she finds herself rushed instantly into a marriage, most of which is unintelligible to her as it's performed in an language unknown to her. She also has to convert from Anglicanism as she had expected - not to Roman Catholicism, as had been discussed in the letters between her and her fiancé, but to the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity.
There are many more unorthodox things taking place, and our heroine is no fool. She quickly realizes that she hasn't in fact married the man she was expecting to. She soon discovers that she's not even in Austria now but in Romania, a country ruled by the Turks, and through marriage has become a countess - and princess, too. What's nice about our heroine is that she tends to make the best of things, and she is certainly not disappointed in her husband, Dumitru Constantinescu, even if he did trick her into marriage. Unfortunately for her, there's more going on under the surface than she thought. Her new husband needs money that he thought he would receive from her dowry - which has instead been ring-fenced for her safety by her father.
Of course, Alcy discovers the deception and runs away from her husband, who chases after her (of course), but unfortunately they are both captured by Servian bandits. There follows some very interesting writing as Alcy and Dumitru try to escape, face dangers and difficulties, and also have to reconcile to each other despite their differences. The second half of the book, as they travel to the heart of the Ottoman empire, is quite different from the first half at Severinor Castle, but the descriptions of the events and the people that they meet are fascinating. There is espionage, bribery, politics and danger as well as love and loss for our main characters.
This is an enjoyable change from the standard historical romance set in London ballrooms, although the title isn't particularly suggestive of an interesting story. The setting of Rumania is of great interest, and the author's research has obviously been extensive. It needs a special kind of hero and heroine to work in this kind of book, and Dumitru, with his 12 languages and his singleminded nature, works as a very good, if flawed, hero. Alcy has finally found the person who can appreciate her intelligence, and she has also learned her own strength through hardships. I very much recommend this book to those who like full characterization and great description of place and customs in their books, rather than just romance.