Nothing more is called for than a simple "Eh". This installment in the O'Malley Saga by the so-called "Empress of the Erotic" certainly attains certain erotic heights, but only between long yawns.
Let's get some perspective first. Velvet is a character that really grows and develops through the course of this lump of a novel. She begins as a whiny little girl only to come out a resourceful woman at the end. Honestly I haven't read many romance novels where a character's development has been so well done.
That being said, the rest of the novel is a veritable travesty. Off the top, I cannot possibly believe that Adam de Marisco and Skye O'Malley would make an arranged marriage for their only "miracle" daughter in the first place. If I'm not mistaken, her parents' absence during important formative years of her life is what's responsible for Velvet's outraged attitude towards marriage and, well, life. It's good that there's an excuse, because otherwise it doesn't make much sense that an Elizabethan girl would raise such hell about a betrothal.
As for the betrothed, Alex Gordon, whatever else you can say about him, he is a real character. Sure he's thoughtless and insensitive and every bit as involved in his own needs as Velvet is in hers. In later books he's said to have become Velvet's virtual love slave, however this book ends leaving me with a feeling of two strong individuals working on an equal relationship. At least Alex doesn't fizzle and mellow out by the end.
The real fly in the ointment here would be Velvet's time in India and her sublime love with the emperor Akbar. Better to have left Alex for dead and developed a storyline about Velvet's love in the exotic wilds of India. That would have thrown some much needed spice into the O'Malley series. Above all, Velvet genuinely falls in love with Akbar--isn't that what romance is all about? Their daughter is like a natural sanction of their union. I think Small made a huge mistake in bringing Velvet back to England and to a situation that was tenuous at best.
Nevermind enough name dropping that picking them all up would break your back. William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Walter Ralegh, Bess Throckmorton...it goes on, but thanks Ms. Small for letting us know you can read an encyclopedia. Let's not forget Queen Elizabeth's actual speech delivered to her troops at Tilbury Plain. All this makes it feel less like a novel and more like an academic exercise.
If you're hooked on the saga, you will of course have to read this. I'd advise anyone else to proceed with caution.