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In the second book of Anne Stuart's Scandal in the House of Russell series, she features two characters who aren't who they claim to be: Mary Greaves, is really Madeline Russell, the second of three daughters of the disgraced shipping magnate, Eustace Russell, who died while being investigated for embezzling his own company. And Thomas Morgan isn't really an English privateer-turned-shipping magnate, but Luca, a Gypsy, with a less-than-pristine background.
Following the same theme of cat-and-mouse, Maddy enters Thomas's house as Mary, a maid-of-all-work, hoping she could find some evidence to exonerate her father. Maddy doesn't count on being attracted to Thomas, and it proves to complicate her already-complicated situation: she's the help, and he's her employer; and, he's also supposed to be her enemy.
Unlike Bryony, Maddy is beautiful and still has prospects, fending off (but also considering) the proposal of an aging lord, but she is more determined to clear her family's name and restore a bit of her family's status in society. To say that life in service came as a culture shock to Madeline is an understatement -- and I got the sense that Stuart reveled in going into detail just how far down the Russells had fallen. Madeline continues to reminisce about the luxuries of her past life as she scrubbed and cleaned Thomas's house. In many instances, she looks at her hands and bemoans their current condition, knowing she could never have them be smooth and flawless ever again.
There was a part of me that felt that the author dwelt too much on this detail of Maddy's life -- but there was also another part of me that felt it was necessary for Maddy to go through this trial by fire. And I have to admire her for her tenacity -- a lesser person would have given up after an hour with the dust and the bats, but Maddy remained. A lesser person would have quit after being asked to work to the point of exhaustion, and then given very little to eat and very little time to rest. But Maddy was fighting for something greater than herself -- and I'm glad to see that our heroine isn't just a self-absorbed heiress intending to regain her life of comfort. What Maddy was fighting for was for her and her sisters to regain their father as they had known him: a man who worked hard, and provided well -- and it is tragic that their last memory of him is that of a man on the brink of a breakdown, suspicious of everything and everyone.
I liked seeing Thomas and Maddy dance around each other -- they both know they're there under false pretenses. Thomas is trying to marry a lady who would cement his position in society, but the part of him that is Gypsy, Luca, is suffocating under all the politeness and manners, and yearns to break free and sail away. Thomas knows Maddy/Mary isn't who she claims to be, and he is just waiting for her to make a slip. There's a clear attraction between the two, but I don't see a development in the relationship -- there's definitely admiration and respect, but I don't see love nor do I see how it could've developed in such difficult and limited circumstances.
But I have to admire that neither one compromises on their principles because of lust -- Maddy is focused on her goal to find evidence, and Thomas wants her to admit her real identity first. The author maintains a tense dynamic between our hero and heroine -- then she introduces a silent, unseen villain who is intent to do bodily harm to Maddy. This is the other weakness of the story -- the villain isn't clearly established, and I was initially confused about who he was in the story. As the story gained momentum, though, it because clearer who he was and his connection to the downfall of Maddy's father.
I felt that the author was considering two endings for our heroine: one involved the ship named after her, which Thomas had been wanting to acquire. It was clever for the author to put Maddy in this interesting position: neither Maddy nor her sisters knew that Maddy still owned something of monetary value. They had believed that all of their possessions had been seized. Thomas wanted to buy the ship, but needed to locate the owner to sign it over. I would've wanted to see how this particular plot thread would have played out: it would restore something to Maddy and her sisters, and put them in a less-desperate situation. But the author decided to resolve this in the conventional way: with Thomas and Maddy falling in love with each other.
Anne Stuart sets the stage very well for the third, and final book in the series: the list of suspects has been narrowed down to one, but, even the sisters agree that he is the most unlikely of villains. It will be very interesting to see how the author plans to resolve this mystery.
Never Trust a Pirate is Book 2 in the Scandal in the House of Russell series by Anne Stuart. To find out more about Anne Stuart and her books, click below: