Cindy Anstey’s debut novel Love, Lies and Spies was a reading experience that hearkened back to the days of Jane Austen. It’s like Pride and Prejudice … but with spies. (!!)
Nineteen year old, Juliana Telford is not like the other nineteenth century ladies who live for balls, fashion, men and the Season. She is much more interested in spending her days studying ladybirds and working on her thesis. Her father, not wanting to watch his daughter live a life of solitude, sends her to London for the Season – Juliana acquiesces, but is determined to not be drawn in to the marriage scheme, but rather find a way to publish her research on the ladybird. Meanwhile, Spencer Northam is on his first assignment for the War Office and, like Juliana, has no interest to be married off. When they accidentally meet, they cannot deny their feelings for each other, but put those feelings aside when the future of England is put in danger.
(warning: spoilers below)
This novel was incredibly sweet in every way. The characters, the writing, the story … everything was very well done. Juliana was a wonderful character – I don’t think I can find one fault in her. She was such an Austen heroine that I immediately fell for her. When we first meet her, she is hanging over the edge of a cliff after taking a tumble from the carriage. What makes her so endearing is she is worried how the situation she finds herself in would affect her aunt.
“I shall be considered completely beyond the pale if I am dashed upon the rocks. Aunt will be so uncomfortable. Most inconsiderate of me.”
Spencer was a sweetheart and reminded me of the character Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. He detests the idea of marriage and yet, when he meets Juliana, his mind slowly begins to change. I was so grateful when he refused and ignored the match-making skills of her aunt and Lady Pyebald, and instead focused on Juliana. His feelings for Juliana developed realistically and sweetly.
The plot went the usual way of nineteenth century novels: unrequited feelings, dastardly villains and misunderstandings. I didn’t mind that, given that the story was meant to mimic an Austen novel. When Spencer and Juliana first meet, he is watching for a ship to arrive from France, most likely with enemy secrets on board. Due to this, he believes that Juliana might be a French spy and the rest of the novel follows this misunderstanding.
I found it refreshing that the women of the novel were the villains instead of the men. Lady Pyebald and her daughter were selling England’s secrets to France through an old suitor of her daughter’s. The ladies were absolutely despicable, especially the way they treated Juliana, so I really enjoyed their fall from grace. Maxwell was disgusting, and his treatment of Juliana at the end of the novel made me furious. What really angered me the most was the reaction from the community. When Juliana escapes from him and seeks help, no one believes she has been kidnapped. When Spencer saves her and Maxwell’s plans are brought to light, there are still many people who think the entire thing must have been a misunderstanding, because Maxwell comes from a wealthy family. I was shaking my head the entire scene, but it was important this was included, because things like this still happen, where people are more likely to believe the man over the woman.
My only critique of the novel was the slow explanation of Spencer’s work for the War Office. His mission is not fully explained until halfway through the novel, and even then, it was still a little confusing. Bobbington’s revelation, however, was surprising and well done. I am so glad he was not a hopeless young man in love with a terrible lady. I hope he and Carrie marry. Hey, maybe it can be a double wedding like in Pride and Prejudice!?
This was a great, original novel. It was fresh, exciting and easy to read. Anstey’s writing style reflected Austen’s. I once read a journal article that described Austen’s writing as familiar and accepting. We keep coming back to Pride and Prejudice because the writing style is rhythmic, romantic and poetic. It feels good to read Austen’s work and Anstey’s style was remnant of that. That’s what I felt in reading Love, Lies and Spies: like everything was familiar and welcoming. I look forward to whatever else Anstey has in store for us.
Buy the book here.