Barbara’s Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Series: Hell’s Belles #1
Publication Date: 8/24/21
Period: Victorian London – 1838
Number of Pages: 384
I almost passed on this book because the advertising said it was “unapologetically feminist” and from other books I’ve read with that same advertising, I expected to find a shrewish, man-hating, overbearing, unlikable female lead along with a weak, milquetoast, doormat of a male lead. I am so glad that wasn’t what I found. Sesily Talbot is strong, independent, intelligent, has a totally wicked sense of humor, is very caring, and has a devil-may-care attitude that people either abhor or admire. While she chafes at Caleb’s protectiveness, she doesn’t belittle him, she understands where he is coming from and then quietly teaches him to trust her abilities. They are both much better people in the end because of that exchange of values, ideas, and abilities.
I understand both lead characters and many of the supporting characters have been introduced in other books, but I haven’t read any of those. That said, I don’t feel as if that was much of a problem when reading this book since it gives plenty of background and mentions the most pertinent facts that we’d need to know. I also loved that the author’s notes included information on the real-life group on which the Hell’s Belle’s were based.
Lady Sesily Talbot is a walking scandal and has been for her entire life. Her entire family has set the ton on edge since her father won his title from the Prince Regent – in a card game no less. Sesily and her sisters have a couple of collective sobriquets associated with them – one of them is the Soiled S’s (all five of the sister’s names begin with S). Sesily is also referred to as Sexily when they don’t think she is listening.
Two years earlier, Sesily was approached to join a ‘team’ whose mission was to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves from those with more power. Their network is wide-ranging in both rank and gender. That invitation came at just the right time for Sesily because she was growing bored and restless with what life had to offer and the group, Hell’s Belle’s, gave her a purpose. Sesily, along with new friends Miss Adelaide Frampton, Lady Imogen Loveless, and their leader, the Duchess of Trevescan work tirelessly to right the wrongs of society. Think A-Team in silk skirts.
Caleb Calhoun, a 35-year-old American, is the only man who has ever been able to withstand the charms of Sesily Talbot. Granted, he had to leave England and put an ocean between them before he could do it, and even then, the pull was constantly there. Caleb has to resist Sesily because he has secrets – deep, dark secrets – that won’t allow him to have a home and family – or anyone he cares about. His caring will put them in grave danger.
The book begins with Caleb trying his darndest to protect Sesily – and it goes that way through most of the book. Sesily repeatedly shows him she is strong, smart, and can defend herself. His respect for her abilities constantly grows and he cannot continue to fight the attraction. When his enemy makes a discovery of his secret, it puts Sesily in grave danger. Caleb intends to protect Sesily at all costs – even his own life – but Sesily and her crew have other plans. They’ll save Caleb despite himself.
This book was witty, entertaining, filled with lively banter, and had a wonderfully supportive cast of secondary characters. Those supporting characters will be getting their own books in the series as well. I rated the book a bit lower because the book seemed to slow down in the middle. That was probably to do with quite a bit of angsty internal monologue with the characters, but it did drag and I didn’t have any trouble putting the book down for a while before picking it up again. That said, I can definitely recommend this highly entertaining book if you don’t mind a much more modern take on things.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.