Author: Lauren Willig
Provided Synopsis: In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.
Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.
Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it.
Review: With Miss Gwen’s gothic novel now published, a vampire craze has taken hold of London. Rumors spread about the Duke of Belliston, who had been absent from the scene for twelve years. Some say his eyes glow red. Others say his family is cursed, which is why he is a vampire and has resorted to sacrificing chickens. Miss Sally Fitzhugh believes herself to be the only one above these rumors. She does not shy away from a dare that places her on the duke’s property, nor does she falter (much!) when the duke is found in the presence of a dead body with fang punctures on the neck. There is a story behind this duke, and there is a reason for this murder, and Sally intends to unearth the truth, no matter the absence of an invitation for her to offer her help or advice.
My honest opinion: I adored Sally! I wanted more of her and more of this story. It was so easy to fall into her head and travel along with her thought process. It was so familiar to be amongst her friends and her brother, Turnip, again. The sharp wit of her dialogue reminded me that when Lauren Willig is on her game there are very few who can top her in this genre (and this was a good reminder to have when some of the books toward the middle-end of this series have done little to impress me). Sally and Lucien were great fun and perfectly suited for one another. If I could beg Lauren to give me more, I certainly would.
My only detraction from this book would be that it did not provide the full extent of an adventure, as I would have wanted. Rather than dig for clues in numerous places around Town, Sally and Lucien were ensconced mainly in the society scene. Ballrooms and gossip played a larger part in this book than any other in the series, according to my memory. It worked well with Sally — no doubt about that — but I will always be the reader who wants to see more action-adventure from a historical mystery set novel. If you are familiar with this series, then I would say this book reminded me of Turnip’s; it was immensely enjoyable, but it stretched the connection with the League of the Pink Carnation a bit farther than the tether probably should have gone. I would have liked for this story to have been more involved in the series as a whole, especially since the end of Miss Gwen’s was such a game changer to the way The League had been run. Manzanilla could have easily been a 4+ star book had it achieved this desire.
As for Colin and Eloise? Discovery is the name of their game, but I will say no more than that. The end of their storyline was perfect.