This is a spoiler-free review.
The Innkeeper’s Daughter by Bianca M. Schwarz
The Gentleman Spy Mysteries, Book 1
Expected publication: January 12th, 2021 by Central Avenue Publishing.
Well-researched, gritty and terribly romantic, The Innkeeper’s Daughter is the first in a darkly entertaining historical romance mystery series set in Regency London, complete with a beautiful girl in peril, a flawed gentleman spy, a nasty pimp, and a sinister hell-fire club with deadly secrets.
In the twilight of a November evening, Sir Henry, a man of wealth and charm, comes across a badly beaten Eliza, desperate to escape her cruel stepfather. Realizing she has nowhere to go, Sir Henry takes her to his home in Mayfair.
There, as she recovers, Henry introduces the lovely Eliza to a world of art and literature she never knew existed. But Eliza’s brutal world follows her to London, where the salons of the aristocratic elite co-exist with the back alleys of the criminal underworld.
Thankfully, Henry, a secret agent to the crown, is able and willing to deal with the man Eliza’s stepfather had sold her to, and the pimp who plans to enslave her.
As romance blossoms between them, Eliza unearths an old secret that leads them into the dark sadistic world of sex trafficking, and finally allows Henry to identify the traitor responsible for selling military secrets to the French, causing the death of thousands.
A natural at the spy game, Eliza proves herself a worthy partner in their fight for truth and justice. But with time running out, and the fate of one girl hanging in the balance, Henry and Eliza must find a way to outwit a nasty pimp and eliminate a dangerous enemy agent.
Content Warnings: rape, torture, sexual and physical abuse
Thank you to the publisher, Central Avenue Publishing, and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book. All thoughts are my own.
“It seems you are forever rescuing me.” Her eyes were full of warmth, and Henry’s smile turned into a grin. “What can I say? You are my favorite damsel in distress.”
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for beautiful book covers. The first thing that drew me to this title was the gorgeous – and I mean gorgeous – cover art. And after reading the synopsis I was even more intrigued! The Innkeeper’s Daughter boasts of having it all – historical romance, suspense, mystery… As a fan of both period romances and mystery/thrillers, you can bet how excited I was to pick this novel up.
The mix of genres aside, from what I can see, The Innkeeper’s Daughter is first and foremost advertised as a romance between Eliza, the daughter of a deceased innkeeper on the lam from her abusive fiancé and step-father, and Henry, a known playboy and secret agent of the crown … something I found unfortunate, because the romantic aspects of the plot were my least favorite. 😕
Between the insta-love, the constant reminders of their notable age gap, and the uncomfortable power dynamics – not only was Eliza noticeably less experienced than Henry, but she spent almost the entire narrative feeling indebted to him for saving her life, and, being poor, had only her virginity to give him in thanks (cue: 🙄) – this relationship just didn’t do it for me.
When it comes to period romances, I’m typically a little more forgiving than this, but just the combination of all these factors together made this one in particular feel like there was too much to overlook.
Another thing worth mentioning, is that while Eliza is the titular character, the aforementioned innkeeper’s daughter, Henry was the actual main character of the novel. So this story ended up being less about a badass woman teaming up with her man to take down a seedy, unground crime organization (like I had hoped it would be) as it was about a man being a secret agent, teaming up with his war buddies, and bedding his mistress along the way…
Eliza’s portrayal throughout this story was probably my biggest let down. The narration kept saying how intelligent she was… but it didn’t really feel that way with her constantly being coddled and rescued. Honestly, the way women were portrayed in this novel in general wasn’t my cup of tea. I just felt like they were too often the victims of sexual violence and… rarely anything else.
Overall, I gave this novel two and a half stars, because my previously mentioned complaints aside, the “case” part of the plot itself wasn’t half bad. Full of suspense, it kept me engaged until the very end, and paved the way for a promising premise in the next instalment. Plus, this book had lots of beautiful gown descriptions throughout, which I have to admit I’m biased towards. 🥺
All this begs the question, will I read the sequel? I don’t know. Maybe. But that’s mostly because at my very core I’m a completionist – to my own detriment at times. 🤷🏻♀️
Do you want to read this book?
Are you normally a fan of historical romances?
If so, what aspects make you love them so much?