At Her Service
Susan Johnson
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East meets West across time and tradition as three young American women and their Indian immigrant mothers take first steps toward true sisterhood, shattering secrets and sharing joy and tears in Susan Johnson's
At Her Service

Buy *At Her Service* by Susan Johnson online

At Her Service
Susan Johnson
356 pages
March 2008
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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It's rather difficult to categorize At Her Service. Publishing company Brava bills it as a 'Historical Romance,' and it's certainly not set in contemporary times: the action takes place during the Crimean war in 1855, although a couple of chapters at the end of the book are more recent in history. I found this a very unromantic book, in fact, quite disappointing as a romance. There was a great deal of interaction (generally of the horizontal kind) between the hero and heroine, but their relationship feels throughout more lustful than romantic. At story's end, I had no idea whether it would actually last, or what the hero and heroine saw in each other, finding both characters very unconvincing.

There are some good aspects. The setting during the Crimean war is unusual for a historical romance, and the author adds some good local color, mentioning some well-known characters such as Florence Nightingale. Hero and heroine are both spies, and this added a little extra interest (although the heroine, Aurora Clement, seems a remarkably unskilled spy). The hero, the Marquis of Darley, is a full-time libertine who also has side interests in spying, helping wounded soldiers and rescuing female spies from potential hangings. Aurora is a more complex character whose love for her property in the Crimea and care for her brother cause her to spend a lot of time with Darley. They certainly don't hang about before they jump into bed, though, and I found that this began the unrealistic and unsatissfying element of the story, the relationship between the main characters.

The author really needs to do some more thorough research about modes of speech in this period in history. Both main characters speak American (odd for an Englishman and a Frenchwoman), and the continual Americanisms jar badly. Their behavior is also questionable: it appears that everyone knows what's going on, yet it isn't any kind of scandal. The resolution of the book is extremely facile; a supposed 'happy ever after' ending is pulled out of the hat with no real convincing evidence that it will lsat, or that Darley's libertine nature has been set aside.

All in all this is a disappointing book with some good aspects, mainly the interesting setting and the travelling from the Crimea to France by private train. Still, too much of the story focuses on the non-romance between the main characters, there are too many errors in speech, and the behavior seems too 21st-century to make the book feel authentic.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Helen Hancox, 2008

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