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When Amanda Quick announced that she was releasing a romance that wasn't connected to her Arcane series, it was not a question of whether I would read it, but when. After an agonizing one-year wait for the paperback to be released, I hunkered down and read Otherwise Engaged.
I loved how this story started: it is the heroine that rescues the hero from mortal danger, and they end up falling in love. But the story goes downhill from there: there isn't one, but three antagonizing elements: someone is after the plans for the solar-powered machine and has endangered Benedict's life and those close to him. There also seems to be a spy element as well, as Benedict's uncle seems to head or be part of an intelligence network, but it isn't explicitly stated, or developed in the story.
Then there's the danger to Amity -- her professional career and the publication of her first book are being threatened when gossip about her and Benedict are leaked to the press. There's also Humphrey Nash, a famous photographer who wants to take credit for Amity's work, claiming a man's name would lend the book more credibility.
Finally, there's the "Bridegroom," a serial killer who attacked Amity. The Bridegroom is an intriguing character, who seems to be very well-connected in society. He has killed several women, and Amity only managed to escape because of her quick-thinking.
It's the mention of the solar-powered device in the Gaslight era of England that got me doubting this book's ties to the Arcane series -- considering the time period, the idea of solar-power during this period and is two steps from being considered "paranormal" during that time. There were a few times that I had put down the book and check whether the book was part of the Arcane series, because there were some not-so-subtle resonances between the series and this stand-alone.
There's a familiarity to Amanda Quick's characters, and I see this as both a good and bad thing. Quick is so good at creating strong, capable characters, and her characters in Otherwise Engaged are no different. Amity is an intrepid world traveler who writes about her travel adventures for a newspaper, and Benedict is a really, really smart engineer. While there is no cookie-cutter master mold for Amanda Quick's characters, upon reading, one can tell that they are her characters. They are distinct -- but, at the same time, I also get a sense that I've read about him or her before. There's a strange sense of deja vu, but, I guess it is to be expected considering how many books this author has already published.
Unfortunately, the women of the Doncaster bloodline who had the misfortune to be endowed with those particular characteristics had acquired a certain reputation over the years. Tales were still told of the many-times great-grandmother who had barely escaped hanging as a witch during the 1600s. A century later a spirited aunt had managed to disgrace the family by running off with a highwayman. Then there was the aunt who had vanished on a hot-air balloon ride only to reappear as the mistress of a married earl.
- p. 31
* * *
"Have you had any experience with criminal investigations, Mr. Stanbridge?"
"No, but I imagine it is like any problem in engineering or mathematics," he said. "One assembles all of the relevant facts in a logical manner and then one solves for the unknown."
- p. 53
I loved the romance aspect of this story, of how Benedict and Amity get engaged out of (in)convenience, to protect Amity's reputation, but Benedict doesn't count on Amity wanting to help him with his own search. They make a great team, because they are so like-minded -- and there is very good chemistry between them.
"I think that we know each other perhaps better than we realise," he said finally. "I expect that lurching from crisis to crisis together as we have been obliged to do lately has that effect on two people. We know what to expect from each other in a pinch."
"That is very insightful of you," Amity said.
"You are surprised?" He smiled faintly. "I may not possess Declan Garraway's knowledge of psychology, and as I have noted, I'm not a fan of poetry, but I can usually add two plus two and arrive at four."
"Something to be said for a sound foundation in mathematics."
- p. 252
What I didn't like so much were the conflicts in the story -- the plans for the solar-powered engine is wonderful, but the author doesn't establish why people want it so much, and what would happen if such plans would fall into the wrong hands (global-scale devastation? England falling into darkness?) -- while I saw the danger, I didn't feel the urgency of Benedict and Amity's quest -- which is why, when the resolution came, I didn't really know what to celebrate. The Bridegroom storyline was the most exciting, but the suspense was not sustained up to the very end. The resolution felt a bit flat, and didn't quite match up to the expectation when this particular plot was introduced at the start of the story.
Overall, this was a well-written story, but not as exciting as Amanda Quick's other books.
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