She first ran to her brother in Egypt and then took her chances on the road, choosing to start her life over. She ran knowing it would wreck her brother, knowing she could die on road to Damascus, a single woman without protection but she refused to go home and do her father's bidding. On the road to she met a good man, a Turk, Rustem Pasha. Rustem married her, loved her and she ruined his life. Their home in Acara has burned to the ground, her husband is dead, so Lily runs again, this time running all the way back home. She runs right into the manipulative arms of her father the powerful and petty Duke of Hastings.
John Tacitus Ware had risen high in the world. He had fame as explorer, and a job he loved in the Home Office. His job allowed him to travel and explore till he overstepped and lost it all by trying to start a war. Then unexpectedly the Duke of Clive offers him an opportunity to set it all right and be welcome back, if he does one thing for them. The thing? Save a treaty & avert a war by finding out what the Duke of Hastings and his daughter Lady Lily are up to.
The Orphan Pearl is equal parts diplomatic & romantic intrigue. I really enjoyed how Lily and John interacted. John is conflicted but attracted, Lily is charmed but reluctant. They flirt and tease but neither really means it. John incites Lily by daring her (stolen walks, late-night rendezvous, garden meeting) and offering her a temporary escape, pressing his advantage when she is scared or anxious. Lily disarms him at each step with her wit, daring & self-deprecating humor and a well-placed kick so that she has the advantage in the end. Despite the layers of deception and hidden motivations, there is an undeniable truth to their connection and attraction. They see through, challenge, trick and poke at each other all the while building up an uncomfortable level of trust.
Since her debut Satie has consistently impressed me with her ability to make me care about morally flexible, difficult characters with suspect motivations. Lily is self-centered, impulsive and restless, but she is also tenacious, vulnerable and charming. She is so much more complicated & smart than the people around her ever give her credit for being. Seen as a pretty pawn in her father's game, she is shown to be playing a game of her own. Her game is deeply personal but she remembers more than anyone else that the intrigue over the treaty is not merely political gamesmanship but something that can cause the death of thousands in a region she grew love. John is the one who has to wake up to the fact he isn't just a willing pawn in Clive's game but has also been an unknowing one for far longer to his mentor & biological father. He has craved acceptance for so long that he nearly lost his soul. John has to struggle to figure out what the right thing to do is. He is torn between loyalty to his country, loyalty to his word and his own desires and ambitions. In the end his loss of confidence and surety is what finally opens his eyes to what really matters and what is being asked of him. There are no easy solutions to dilemmas faced by John and Lily and people are hurt and they all have to face that.
I enjoyed the prose, the conflict and the characters in this story, but I do feel the ending and resolution dragged on a bit too long after the climax. Satie takes her time after the major conflicts are resolved to unwind the emotional conflicts. I admire how careful she is to not slap too pat of a happy ending on before the dust is settled but it takes some getting use to.
The Orphan Pearl is a story rich in historical detail & emotional drama. Enticement, manipulation, extortion and orienteering games!
I received a review copy of The Orphan Pearl from the author, Erin Satie.