Review copy was received from NetGalley, Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Secret Service of Tea and Treason by India Holton
Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden
Series: Dangerous Damsels #3
Published by Berkley, Penguin Audio on April 18, 2023
Genres: Fantasy Romance
Length: 10 hours, 14 minutes
Format: Audiobook, eARC
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
Amazon, Audible, Audiobook, Barnes & Noble, Apple
"Two rival spies must brave pirates, witches, and fake matrimony to save the Queen. Known as Agent A, Alice is the top operative within the Agency of Undercover Note Takers, a secret government intelligence group that is fortunately better at espionage than at naming itself. From managing deceptive witches to bored aristocratic ladies, nothing is beyond Alice's capabilities. She has a steely composure and a plan always up her sleeve (alongside a dagger and an embroidered handkerchief). So when rumors of an assassination plot begin to circulate, she's immediately assigned to the case.
But she's not working alone. Daniel Bixby, otherwise known as Agent B and Alice's greatest rival, is given the most challenging undercover assignment of his life- pretending to be Alice's husband. Together they will assume the identity of a married couple, infiltrate a pirate house party, and foil their unpatriotic plans.
Determined to remain consummate professionals, Alice and Daniel must ignore the growing attraction between them, especially since acting on it might prove more dangerous than their target"--
I still love the covers in this Dangerous Damsels series. There are connections between books in the series so I would read them in order. Plus you gain a much better understanding of pirates, and witches. I really appreciate the magic of strong women in a historical setting. The plots are rather ridiculous, but the dialogue is exceedingly clever and often humorous. The books are romances.
Without spoilers, the first story The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is about pirates. The women are generally more successful and talented, but there are men pirates. Pirates are feared by the public, so they are left alone. In The League of Gentlewomen Witches, we move on to witches. Pirates and witches don’t think well of one another. In fact, they have a long standing feud. Pirates fly houses or other buildings and use weapons for fights. Witches also have weapons and chant Latin spells to affect things in a telekinesis sort of way. But they both tend to do more aggrandizing than actual fighting. They also both incredible thieves and pickpockets. Witches deny they are, because witches captured by the police are burned. So witches tend to have a circumspect exterior.
In The Secret Service of Tea and Treason, the main characters are spies! Spies in this world are often raised from young ages as children in orphanages. Alice, Agent A, and Daniel Bixby, Agent B, are very successful agents and are paired together as a married couple in this adventure. They believe there is a secret, dangerous weapon which they must find and destroy at a pirate house party. They pose as pirates. Since Daniel’s last post was undercover in a pirate household for 3 years, he is quite knowledgeable about them.
Alice is quite sensitive to being touched based on her orphanage experiences. Since they need to have the proper PDA of a marriage couple, they start “practicing” all the touching of married couples. Their personal love of books, tidying habits as well as their touching journey is endearing. Agents are never to become personally involved with anyone. In fact, if they want to stop being agents they are often assassinated by the agency. So there’s that problem.
Agent A and Agent B manage the weapon, horrible co-workers, pirates, witches and their budding romance with skill and common sense. You can’t help but root for them.
The narrator has done all the books in the series and I really enjoy her performance. I thought the voices for the male and female characters were appropriate, however I found it difficult at times to differentiate between the different females and males. As with the previous book, I slowed my listening down a bit to be able to grasp all the details, to 1.25x speed.
Listen to a clip: HERE
This purse-snatching offered the best entertainment he’d had since his return to London (or, to be fair, second best, since nothing could surpass yesterday’s discovery of a Utopia edition in the original Latin). Indeed, he might have stopped the hoodlum at once by using a phrase from the magical incantation that pirates employed to fly their battlehouses and witches to move small objects-O’Riley’s witch wife had taught him how to bring down a man with just one enchanted word-but it was invigorating to give chase (not to mention that witchcraft was highly secret, highly illegal-and, according to pirates, highly, er, low behavior.)
About three hundred feet along the street, he caught the thief. After a struggle, he twisted the man’s arm behind his back, relieved him of the purse, and held it out of reach.
“Thank you,” said a woman’s voice behind him.
Daniel felt the purse removed efficiently from his grip. Glancing around, he was astonished to see the lady’s maid. Time seemed oddly suspended as he stared, arrested by the sight of her. You, said something inside of him, like a memory or a dream. It had whispered to him in the dress shop but spoke louder now, as if she’d removed a mask and he could see her more clearly. Her delicate face was framed by a coiffure so severe it made him think of backboards and plain, starched undergarments-
At which point, time dropped into the pit of his stomach with a crash that sent reverberations through his entire nervous system.
“Ma’am,” he said, taking refuge in politeness even while his nerves clamored and the thief swore and kicked in an effort to get free. “It was a pleasure to be of assistance.”
“You are too kind,” she replied, her voice civil but her expression making it clear she was speaking literally. She turned and handed the purse to the thief.
Daniel blinked, trying to comprehend the evidence before his eyes. He had not been so confused since hearing Wordsworth described as a poetic genius. And confusion was dangerous in his line of work (i.e., when he felt it, other people became endangered). He twisted the thief’s arm further, causing the man to holler, and took the purse from him once more.
“I beg your pardon,” he reproved the lady’s maid.
At his somber tone she cringed, her big dark eyes filling with tears, her lashes trembling. Daniel felt like an utter cad. “Please don’t cry,” he said, holding out his hand in apology.
And she grabbed the purse in it, tugged hard, and jabbed the fingers of her free hand up into his armpit.
Daniel gasped at the sudden pain. His grip weakened, and the purse disappeared once more from his possession. The woman returned it to the thief, who took it with an attitude of bemused uncertainty.
“For goodness’ sake,” Daniel muttered. Although years of piracy had presented little opportunity for heroics, he felt certain they did not usually involve the victim attacking her rescuer. Wrenching the thief about, he snatched the purse from him and-
The woman grasped his wrist with both hands. Daniel attempted to shake her off, and she attempted to emasculate him with an upthrust of her knee, and he saved himself (and his future children) by quickly blocking her with his own knee, leading to her stomping down on his foot, and him twisting her arm, and both of them stopping abruptly to watch the thief escape along the street.
“Is that your pearl necklace he’s carrying?” Daniel asked mildly.
“Yes,” she replied.
She shrugged. “Hopefully he won’t bite the pearls to see if they’re real. They are in fact cyanide capsules.”
As the thief turned a corner and disappeared from the narrative, Daniel released the woman. She took a careful breath, her fingers twitching at her skirt, and he frowned with concern. “Are you hurt?”
The look she gave him was such that Daniel immediately wanted to find a chalkboard and write I will not ask stupid questions one hundred times upon it.
“Yes,” she said in a quiet, terrifyingly precise voice. “I have a headache, my feet ache, and it has been six hours since my last cup of tea. Six hours! And now I even sound like her. Do you realize how much work went in to shepherding that woman into position so her purse could be stolen? How many boutiques I have endured this week? Do you realize how many conversations about penny-dreadful novels I have been forced to endure?”
“One such conversation would be too many, but there in fact have been dozens, all mixing together into a ghastly, giggling blur. And yet there goes Putrid Pete back to his gang’s headquarters without the tracking device in Miss Tewkes’s purse, thanks to your dratted chivalry.”
“Furthermore, what were you thinking, bringing Miss Weekle shopping on Bond Street today? Her servants coordinate with Miss Tewkes’s servants so as to ensure the ladies never meet. The last time they did, there was a fracas over a parasol, and Miss Weekle’s footman ended up with his nose broken. You have disrupted everything. Therefore I say good afternoon, sir. This ends our acquaintance.”
And grabbing the purse from him, she turned and marched away.
Daniel stared dazedly after her. His memory was shouting for attention . . . His body, however, drowned it out with a hot, uncomfortable throbbing. Perhaps he had strained something in his fight with the thief. He would have to consult a medical encyclopedia this evening.
The woman took an unrelenting course along the footpath, obliging more genteel ladies to leap out of her way. She moved with the dangerous grace of someone entirely aware of her surroundings and entirely unafraid. He watched her, knowing she would know that he did.
And for the first time in living memory, Daniel Bixby grinned.
Excerpted from The Secret Service of Tea and Treason by India Holton Copyright © 2023 by India Holton. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved.
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