and-only-to-deceive

I recently finished reading “And Only to Deceive,” Tasha Alexander’s debut novel. Here’s the synopsis from the back of the book:

Emily agreed to wed Philip, the Viscount Ashton, primarily to escape her overbearing mother. Philip’s death while on safari soon after their wedding left Emily feeling little grief, for she barely knew the dashing stranger.

But her discovery of his journals nearly two years later reveals a far different man than she imagined — a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who apparently loved his new wife deeply. Emily’s desire to learn more of her late husband leads her though the quiet corners of the British Museum and into dangerous mystery involving rare stolen artifacts. To complicate matters, she’s juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond matrimony into darker realms…

While the synopsis from the back of the book makes the novel sound like a thrilling page turner, I found that it was slow to start. 100 pages in, we were still following Emily through society visits, and she really had no idea of the mystery surrounding her late husband.

Even when the mystery began to pick up, my interest didn’t increase much. At that point, I didn’t feel much emotional connection to the characters. I wanted to find out what happened before Philip’s death, but not because I wanted resolution for Emily, but because I wanted to know for myself.

Similarly, I found the novel very even-keeled. Many of the more emotional scenes didn’t seem to differ from the more mundane. I don’t think this was a characteristic of the main character, there were scenes when she was weeping, and I don’t think it was the time period the novel was set it either. Rather, I think it was either my failure to connect to the novel as a whole, or a failure in Alexander’s attempt to communicate that emotion to the reader.

That said, the history of Greek art and the weaving of the Iliad throughout all facets of the novel was truly fantastic. Alexander really knows and researched Greek history! This, more than anything else in the novel, really drew me in and lent the novel as sense of authenticity. I also really liked having an excerpt from Phillip’s diary before each chapter — as Emily learned more about Philip, so did the reader. This was also an opportunity to get to know Phillip and for the reader to form their own opinion of him, rather than being forced to accept whatever Emily said. Conversely, this may have contributed to my sense of emotional disconnect.

As was Alexander’s first novel, and I would read a subsequent novel, but I would hope to have more of a connection with the emotions of our intrepid heroine. Overall, did I love this novel? No, but I didn’t dislike it either. I might not whole-heartedly recommend it, like The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, but I did enjoy it.

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