The Secret Service of Tea and Treason: India Holton’s Back with Another Delightfully Whimsical Romance

Books Reviews India Holton
The Secret Service of Tea and Treason: India Holton’s Back with Another Delightfully Whimsical Romance

India Holton is back with another installment in her Dangerous Damsels series, The Secret Service of Tea and Treason. We’ve been introduced to the pirates of the Wisteria Society and the witches of the Wicken League, and now this book introduces us to some of the secret operatives working for the Agency of Undercover Note Takers (A.U.N.T.).

While a secret organization of spies may not seem like the logical next group to highlight, it’s a fun change of pace. Instead of introducing a new rivalry, A.U.N.T. is charged with attempting to keep the peace between the Wisteria Society and the Wicken League and prevent crimes. 

If you’ve read and loved the previous novels in this series, then you’ll undoubtedly fall in love with Alice Dearlove, Daniel Bixby, and their romance. Holton’s trademark wit and prose are present throughout The Secret Service of Tea and Treason, and there is no shortage of sparks between Alice and Bixby. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud and swooning at numerous parts of the story. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve met Bixby and Alice. They were both undercover, though we didn’t know it at the time, on The League of Gentlewomen Witches. Bixby served as Alex O’Riley’s butler, and Alice posed as a maid for both Lady Armitage and Mrs. Chuke. They crossed paths multiple times, and there were sparks, at least on Bixby’s end. Despite the fact that Alice held Bixby at gunpoint and stole his wallet and cufflinks, our Bixby was smitten.

On The Secret Service of Tea and Treason, we learn that there’s more than meets the eye with Alice and Bixby. They aren’t merely the hired help employed pirates and witches. They’re actually A.U.N.T.’s top secret agents, Agent A and Agent B.

Agents typically work alone, but a grave threat against Her Majesty the Queen prompts A.U.N.T. to change protocol, forcing Agent A and Agent B to put aside their differences and work together. As if that isn’t horrible enough, they also have to pretend to be married pirates and infiltrate Frederick and Jane Bassingthwaite’s party to locate this mysterious weapon that’ll be used against the Queen.

The fake dating/marriage trope combined with rivals to lovers is a recipe for perfection if done correctly, and Holton uses this combination to create a fantastic, slow-burn romance. The scene where Alice and Bixby practice kissing for the cover—no other reason—is proof of that.

The only aspect of The Secret Service of Tea and Treason that’s not quite up to par with the previous novels is A.U.N.T. itself. Holton’s prior novels offered more fully fleshed-out societies with the Wisteria Society and the Wicken League. We got to know each group and its idiosyncrasies fairly well through their books. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for A.U.N.T.

While we meet various operatives and employees of A.U.N.T. throughout Alice and Bixby’s tale, we don’t get to know the organization all that well. Part of the issue is that we spend more time with the Wisteria Society than we do with A.U.N.T. during The Secret Service of Tea and Treason.

It’s nice to catch up with some familiar faces, and you can always count on the pirates for an incredibly good time, but it is a missed opportunity not to spend a good chunk of the book inside the walls of A.U.N.T., whether in their main headquarters or some off-site offices.

On some level, it makes sense that we’re only inside headquarters briefly, as the whole function of A.U.N.T. is to infiltrate other groups to gather information and stop crimes from occurring. This is something that could’ve been overlooked if A.U.N.T. didn’t turn out to be a horrendous organization.  We catch glimpses of the sinister side of A.U.N.T. first through Alice and Bixby’s recollections of their past and then through their fears as to what will happen if the organization discovers their relationship. 

The torture, brainwashing, and isolation of A.U.N.T. operatives are far more severe than the squabbles and schemes of pirates and witches, causing A.U.N.T. to be a bit out of sorts with this world that we thought we had come to know and love. If we had spent more time with the people running A.U.N.T. or within its walls, then maybe the reveal wouldn’t be so jarring.

The disappointment with A.U.N.T. is not enough to bring down the book overall. It’s simply a small, dark smudge on Alice and Bixby’s otherwise tidy and spotless romance. It may disappoint us, but we can overlook it.

The Secret Service of Tea and Treason is available now.

Allison Nichols loves to spend her free time curled up with a cat and a book to read. She’s also a TV Critic and the Managing Editor of Tell-Tale TV. Find her on Twitter: @AllisonBlairN

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