Review: The Dark Heart of Florence—Lady Emily #15

Hello, hello!

It’s that time again… time for another Lady Emily Review! If you’ve been following along, I’ve been reviewing the series by Tasha Alexander for quite a while. I still have to go back and review the earlier books, since I began my series somewhere in the middle, but I intend to do a whole reread soon.

Back in January 2020—god, I can’t believe it’s been that long—I had a really slow month at work, and therefore had tons of time to read ebooks on my phone. I blew through seven novels and four novellas during this time, catching up completely on the series up to that point. I have so much love for these characters and all of Lady Emily’s adventures, so naturally I drove 45 minutes to the closest Barnes and Nobel the morning the next book came out this past March. I started reading it almost as soon as I got home, but I’m proud to say that I did manage to pace myself and savor this latest installment in the Hargreaves’ saga.

I began reading The Dark Heart of Florence on March 9, and finished on April 21. I wish I could’ve savored it a little longer, but I wound up devouring the second half of the book in about a day—as is so often the case with these books.

At this point, I’ll give a quick summary of my thoughts on the story, so here is a quick Spoiler Alert in case you aren’t caught up in the series yet. And, once again, if you haven’t picked up these books I cannot recommend them enough!

In the previous book, we were introduced to Colin’s daughter Katarina from his previous relationship with the Countess Kristiana von Lange, who met her untimely demise in the line of duty several books prior. I have always hated Kristiana’s character because I adore Emily and Colin’s relationship, and I didn’t like the conflict Kristiana introduced. She brought out the worst in Emily—her jealousy, her insecurity, her impulsiveness, her naivety—and I strongly identify with Emily’s character, so I took that personally.

I almost hate to admit it, but I was relieved when the Countess von Lange met her end. Every mention of her since has been like nails on a chalkboard to me.

So, naturally, I was extremely hesitant to accept Katarina as a part of the Hargreaves clan. Messy history between Emily, Colin and Kristiana aside, this is Edwardian England—the scandal! Colin Hargreaves, agent of the Crown, has an illegitimate teenage daughter! How would Lady Bromley, Emily’s prim and proper mother, react?! I stepped into this latest installment with lots of questions, and lots of hesitation.

Thankfully, Kat plays a minor role in this story. Aside from the adventure taking place in Kat’s Italian palazzo in Florence, she’s not around until the very end—and only then for about a page in a rather lighthearted scene to tie things up. I’m not sure how I would have felt if she’d been in the whole book honestly. I grew to be okay with her character throughout the last book because it seemed as though Kat and Emily were growing to be on good terms, but the exposition in TDHOF made it clear that things were still rocky between the two, and they tended to stay out of each other’s way. Stepmothers, for me, are a weird area. While I always identify with Emily more than any other character, I knew exactly how Kat felt about her father’s wife and it really put me at odds with my relationship with Emily’s character. I was relieved to not have to revisit those feelings in this story, making for a good, lighthearted read, but I’m sure we’ll see much more of Katarina von Lange as Tasha Alexander continues the series.

Once again, Tasha opted to have alternating chapters following Lady Emily and company, and a heroine of the past. The side story happening in these alternating chapters was an absolute roller coaster, and more than once I found myself pushing to get through Emily’s chapters just to find out what Mina was up to back in the Renaissance. These side plots are always really entertaining, and Tasha does a wonderful job of tying the past to the book’s present at the end. Mina’s story is no different.

As far as the murder mystery goes, I did have a hunch who the killer was, though I had some doubts throughout. There were a couple of characters we met along the way that seemed suspicious, but as I’ve come to learn with Lady Emily, it’s often the person you would suspect the least—who is not a member of the main cast, of course.

Honestly, this book is exactly what I needed when I picked it up. These characters bring me so much comfort, and the settings are a little mental vacation in a time when I can’t travel—be it that flights to Italy and Greece are expensive, or that we’re still in a global pandemic and international travel is unsafe and irresponsible at this point. It brought me back to a time when there was some normalcy in life, and the fact that it came out in March right around when I was going back to work really helped bookend this strange year of my life.

On Goodreads I gave it a 5/5 stars, and I stand by that rating. I love these books, I love Lady Emily, and I love Tasha Alexander. I cannot wait for her next work, whatever it may be and whenever it may come out!

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