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Title: Unmasking Miss Appleby
Series: Baleful Godmother #1
Author: Emily Larkin
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: November 7, 2016
On her 25th birthday, Charlotte Appleby receives a most unusual gift from the Faerie godmother she never knew she had: the ability to change shape.
Penniless and orphaned, she sets off for London to make her fortune as a man. But a position as secretary to Lord Cosgrove proves unexpectedly challenging. Someone is trying to destroy Cosgrove and his life is increasingly in jeopardy.
As Charlotte plunges into London’s backstreets and brothels at Cosgrove’s side, hunting his persecutor, she finds herself fighting for her life -- and falling in love ...
* * *
When her father died, Charlotte Appleby lost everything and now depends on the charity of her uncle's household -- but it isn't without any strings attached: her aunt and cousin treat her like a servant, and actually call her "Charity" and her uncle isn't any better. Charlotte is ready to leave, and strike out on her own but, she has no money and no connections -- how would she survive?
Enter her Faerie Godmother, who visits Charlotte on her 25th birthday and grants her one wish. I liked that idea that the Faerie Godmother has to bestow one wish to every daughter born in Charlotte's maternal side. Charlotte's own mother wished for the ability to fly, and Charlotte very wisely chooses for the ability to change her form. There was a part of me that wished there was a preface to the story, which would tackle the interesting arrangement between the Faerie Godmother and the women in Charlotte's family. (I'm also curious about how her mother used her ability, and how come Charlotte never realized her mother could fly.)
With her new ability, the world suddenly opens up new opportunities for Charlotte: she could now, literally, be anyone she wanted to be. As she read through the classified section, two ads stood out: one for a schoolmistress, and the other as secretary to a lord. Charlotte chooses to apply for the position of secretary, but she could not apply as a female. And so, Charlotte becomes Christopher Albin.
I've read novels where the heroine masquerades as a young lad, but I don't think I've ever read one where the heroine actually becomes male -- and the author does a good job of describing how disorientating the experience is for Charlotte. What is a penis and how does it work? What do men wear underneath all those layers, and how do you go about acquiring them?
The lord in search of a secretary is Marcus, the Earl of Cosgrove, a very vocal opponent of slave labor and he is preparing to make his case in the House of the Lords, then there is the personal scandal involving his wife, and both of these have brought trouble to his door. From broken glass windows, the attacks have escalated, and the latest one resulted in the injury of his secretary, which is why Lord Cosgrove is looking for a replacement, to help him uncover who is behind all these attacks.
Charlotte/Christopher proves to be a very capable and perceptive secretary, but he also proves to be a very innocent and naive secretary -- it's very clear to Marcus, Lord Cosgrove, that Charlotte/Christopher had led a very sheltered life, and it brings out a protectiveness in him. The relationship that grows between Marcus and Charlotte/Christopher is one of master and apprentice, and Marcus is almost a father figure to Charlotte/Christopher. Almost. Again, I love how the author doesn't shy away from exploring Charlotte/Christopher's attraction to Marcus, and, in a few circumstances, the attraction has a *koff* physical manifestation.
The story reads very well as Marcus and Charlotte/Christopher continue to investigate the attacks on Marcus, and the motives behind it, and it would have worked well as a detective story a la Sherlock Holmes, but, of course, this is a Historical Romance novel, and the author manages to create a convincing scenario in which Marcus also meets and interacts with Charlotte.
It's an ironic situation: the reader knows it's the same person, and there are some similarities in the mannerisms of Charlotte and Christopher, and I kept waiting for Marcus to make the connection. But I think Marcus was too immersed in his investigation to realize it sooner.
When the story began, and Charlotte was presented with her powers, I worried about how limitless it seemed. All superheroes have a weakness, and Charlotte, with her new ability, didn't seem to have one: she could metamorphose into anything she wanted and any time. It's worrisome to think of how this power might be abused if it was given to the wrong person, but Charlotte never gets tempted to use it beyond her needs.
Overall, this was an engrossing and entertaining read. Emily Larkin hints at some very interesting tidbits about Charlotte's parents, and I hope she writes about them. ^_^
Unmasking Miss Appleby is the first book in Emily Larkin's new series, A Baleful Godmother. To find out more about Emily Larkin and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the author. Yes, this is an honest review.