Bibliophile's Reviews > And Only to Deceive

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
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's review
Jan 23, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: 2009, 19th-century, mystery-and-suspense, fiction
Read in January, 2009

** spoiler alert ** And Only to Deceive is billed as a novel of suspense set in the 1880s (though mostly I’m in suspense as to whether the heroine will do some other wildly anachronistic thing!) Emily Ashton marries Philip Ashton solely to escape her mother’s nagging; he dies in a hunting accident shortly after their marriage and its only after his death that she realizes he was a man of hidden depths, which she begins to explore. There’s a mystery involving forgeries and stolen antiquities from Greece and a budding romance with Philip’s best friend, but mostly we follow Emily on her rounds through various European cities.

Since I found this in the laundry room of my building and didn't spend any money on it, I feel a little bad being quite as harsh as I am, but ... This book really had very little to recommend it - the plot was not particularly interesting; the characterization was poor - I couldn't keep some of the characters differentiated because they seemed so similar to others; and the writing (especially the dialogue) was mediocre.

First of all, I find it completely unbelievable that Emily hasn’t even got a passing acquaintance with the myths enshrined in the Iliad - Bulfinch’s mythology came out in the mid-1850s and this story is supposedly taking place in the 1880s. So I’m expected to believe that someone who is characterized as very bright is completely ignorant of the story of Helen of Troy? That’s a bit much! Of course, I find it equally implausible that her deceased husband was so in love with her as we are told he was! She doesn't seem any more interesting - at least at first - than any other woman whom Philip encounters!

Moreover, Alexander falls into the standard trap of historical fiction which is that she plops characters who think and feel exactly like 21st century people into the nineteenth century with a few descriptions of clothes so that we know they’re really in the nineteenth century. But there’s nothing Emily does or says that sounds remotely like she was raised in the 1880s – and even more bizarrely, the only people who seemed perturbed by her unconventionality are her mother and some fussy older lady friends of her mothers. Moreover, I see no evidence of Emily’s vaunted intelligence - she actually seems quite remarkably thick about people, though she is apparently so beautiful that everyone around her falls madly in love with her.

Lastly, there's the anachronistic language. At one point, one of the servants tells Emily that everyone below stairs was "rooting for" her in a conflict with her family. Now, first of all, I highly doubt that any kind of trained staff would have been that forward with their mistress; and secondly, "rooting for" something is totally anachronistic if they mean "cheering for" Emily. Has Ms. Alexander ever read a 19th century novel? (This was just one egregious example - there are many others!)

I won't be reading any more of what is apparently a series!
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