Deception is one of my favorite Amanda Quick books (along with Reckless, Desire and Mystique) and I have read it countless times. Therefore I thought it would make a good introduction to her works on audio, most of which are read by Anne Flosnik. I will admit that it took me a while to get used to Flosnik’s voice and style of reading, but by the end I was thoroughly convinced by her characterizations and wry humor that fit very well with the text. Quick’s early works really shine with fresh enthusiasm and a madcap sense of fun with the scholarly characters and witty banter that have become her trademark formula. Her romances always feature a particular theme or area of interest, from paleontology to perfume making, and Deception, centering around the study of ancient legends and pirating, is a prime example of her talent at its best with its combination of adventure, farce, and of course, romance.
Our hero Jared Ryder, Viscount Chillhurst, heir to the Earl of Flamecrest, is a man on a mission. As the only sensible member of a family famed for their fiery natures, reckless ways and dashing exploits, Jared has taken it upon himself to track down a rare item that his more foolhardy relatives insist on getting into trouble searching for. The item is a diary written by the clan’s ancestress Claire Lightbourne, before she married her beloved Mr. Jack Ryder, a pirate—ahem, I mean buccaneer—who became the first earl, and family legend has it that the text contains clues as to the whereabouts of Captain Jack’s lost treasure, buried on a small island somewhere in the West Indies. Since he’s already lost an eye rescuing his cousins, Jared is keen to put a stop to the nonsense once and for all by finding the diary himself, and the trail leads him right to the door of our heroine, Ms. Olympia Wingfield of Upper Tudway in Dorset.
Olympia is an eccentric spinster, well-known in London’s scholarly Society for Travel and Exploration for her research papers on ancient legends and forgotten treasures of faraway lands, but regarded in Upper Tudway as a bit of an oddity. She recently took in three young orphaned nephews and Jared can see at once that their chaotic household is in dire need of someone to implement a little order and stability, so he promptly presents himself as a new tutor that Olympia’s uncle hired for her. Olympia, not one to like being bothered by pesky details, accepts him into their home after seeing him work a little of his managerial magic on her nephews. The narrative unfurls as a balancing act of Jared sorting out Olympia’s household and various problems before his true identity and reasons for being in Upper Tudway are discovered, while the instant attraction between the two smolders into passion as deceptions pile up and the intrigue escalates.
Our hero and heroine fall firmly into the standard Amanda Quick character mold of stoic gentleman meets scholarly spinster, but they are still one of her more enjoyable iterations, with the pirating theme and treasure hunting making it stand out as particularly fun. It may be a formula, but it’s one that works well for me. I love the way the pair work together as a team, without any big misunderstandings or separations to further the plot. Olympia is an endearing heroine with her scholarly interests and featherbrained ways, and her repeated insistence that she is “a woman of the world.” She proves to be very mature and resourceful despite her humorously distracted air, and has a wonderfully capable manner that is unafraid of tackling any problem set to her. Jared is an appealing hero with his practical nature that hides deep reserves of emotion, his superpower of organization, and his adaptability in mastering any situation he finds himself in, from bodily harm to infiltrating a household. His devotion to his schedule is played for laughs, as is his family’s descriptions of “the Flamecrest fire,” which Jared supposedly lacks, but both serve to give the reader a sense of his hidden vulnerabilities. It’s always amusing to see the dichotomy of how Jared’s family sees him versus the way Olympia and the rest of the world see him. Other characters often remark that Jared looks more like a pirate than a tutor with his eye patch, but to his family he is a dull dog (albeit the one that singlehandedly saved the family fortunes and whom they all turn to in times of crisis.)
The secondary characters also give quite a bit of flavor to the story, from the amusements of Jared’s father and uncle, a Greek chorus of incompetent aging swashbucklers, to Olympia’s scampish nephews, their temperamental housekeeper Mrs. Bird, and their scene-stealing dog Minotaur. The antagonistic Seatons are a fascinating foil for the protagonists, and one of the funniest scenes involves a surprise visit for tea where Olympia tries very hard to evict her unwanted guests. I love Quick’s sensitive inclusion of LGBTQ characters, although I wouldn’t go into the book expecting a lot of detail there. The supporting characters remain on the side, however much the current trend of sequels in romancelandia makes the reader yearn for more from older titles.
Deception’s charm really relies on the humor, which comes out in both the dialogue and farcical turns of the plot. I have heard complaints about the dated cheesiness of early Quick romances (this one was written in 1993,) but I feel that the humor is rather self-aware. It doesn’t break the fourth wall or anything, but it seems very intentionally ridiculous and it must either work for you or it doesn’t. I would liken it to romance descended from comic writers such as P. G. Wodehouse rather than strictly Jane Austen.
One of the signs of a successful audiobook adaptation is when the voices the narrator uses for each character resound in my head on subsequent rereads, and Flosnik’s interpretations of both Olympia and Jared remain memorable. Jared’s deeper tone vibrates with control and passion that fit him very well, and Olympia’s tones express her intelligent distracted air and make her various emotions shine through. Flosnik handles the over-the-top drama of the sometimes-florid writing deftly, getting into the spirit of the book but never letting things get out of hand. Her performance fully commits to the story as if she believes what she’s reading and that brings it alive for the listener. Flosnik may be an acquired taste, but is well worth the effort to keep listening.
All in all, whether in book or audio form, Deception remains a top keeper for me and I hope readers discovering Amanda Quick for the first time enjoy it too!