Welcome to my blog! I’m sharing a review today of a new historical romance from a beloved author: The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan. She has graciously answered a few questions for my today AND provided an exclusive “deleted scene” from the novel, too! (If you’ve already read The Mozart Code and want to scroll down to the deleted scene, I won’t blame you a bit!)
The Mozart Code is a companion novel of sorts to The London Restoration. While it happens second in a timeline sequence, the books are standalones that feature two different couples, though you will see some overlap of familiar characters if you’ve read The London Restoration.
No matter how you might try to hide in a war to escape your past, it is always close at hand.
Lady Sophia Huntington Villiers is no stranger to intrigue, as her work with Alan Turing’s Bombe Machines at Bletchley Park during the war attests. Now, as part of Simon Barre’s covert team in post-war Vienna, she uses her inimitable charm and code name Starling to infiltrate the world of relics: uncovering vital information that could tilt the stakes of the mounting Cold War. When several influential men charge her with finding the death mask of Mozart, Sophie wonders if there is more than the composer’s legacy at stake and finds herself drawn to potential answers in Prague.
Simon Barrington, the illegitimate heir of one of Sussex’s oldest estates, used the previous war to hide his insecurities about his past. Now, he uses his high breeding to gain access to all four allied quarters of the ruined city in an attempt to slow the fall of the Iron Curtain. He has been in love with Sophie Villiers since the moment he met her, and a marriage of convenience to save Simon’s estate has always kept her close. Until now, when Sophie’s mysterious client in Prague forces him to wonder if her allegiance to him—and their cause—is in question. Torn between his loyalty to his cause and his heart, Simon seeks answers about Sophie only to learn that everything he thought he knew about his involvement in both wars is based on a lie.
The Mozart Code is a thoughtful and engaging romance that intertwines secrets, loyalty, and intrigue in early cold war eastern Europe. While the relationship develops as a marriage of convenience with a strong foundation of friendship between Sophie and Simon, the true nuances of romance shine through in tiny moments between them when the reader realizes their insightful knowledge of each other — how in tune each is to the other’s emotions behind carefully constructed facades of bravery and class, and sometimes in the intimacy of a shared cigarette 😊.
Rachel McMillan’s authorial voice glistens with her unique way of painting the setting as an active character. In this case, the cities of Vienna and Prague in their post-WWII turmoil and beauty. Her lyrical style lends itself to the slow-burn romance unfolding between Simon and Sophie, as does the timeline of the novel with carefully placed, pointed flashbacks enlightening their backstories and heightening the tension of the present.
Major themes of love, sacrifice, and bravery play out in the lives of the characters. Loyalty, especially, is a strong element present in the recovery of Vienna and Prague, in the friendships of the leads with the Somervilles, in the ever-present threat of betrayal, and in the way loyalty looks a lot like love — even when Sophie tries to maintain her careful heart’s barricade. The use of names is also a clever part of Simon and Sophie’s progression, with the power of identity and names explored through assertion, class, endearment, heritage, and belonging.
The ROMANCE of the story is my favorite part, of course! Simon is a carefully guarded beta hero whose history with Sophie is bittersweet and endearing. As he grows through the events of the novel, he comes into his own in many ways, seeing beyond processing the world through a chess scenario. Sophie is tough and independent, and her growth comes through her opportunity to keep her word and her loyalty sacred to Simon alone. A slight switch in gender norms of emotional vulnerability plays out in their relationship, yet Simon remains the protective hero and Sophie the intelligent complement to his soul. I love the way Sophie loves Mozart and music! The title “Mozart Code” has special meaning between them and ties up all the ways they are intertwined and committed.
Thank you to the author/publisher for the early review copy. This is my honest review.
Thank you, Rachel, for taking to time to answer some behind-the-scenes questions about The Mozart Code and to share an exclusive deleted scene!
Can you tell us a little more about your hero and heroine’s personalities? Quirks or endearing qualities?
They’re both playing at being something they’re not in some fashion— at least to the world at large. When it comes to themselves they know each other so intimately that they can finish each other’s sentences but also have this amazing homing device that allows them to sense when the other is near. I just love that about them. They’re both daft little bunnies desperate to keep their independence and so fearful of being hurt and yet the undercurrent of their relationship is just pure love. Strong, earth-defying love. Sophie and Simon are each other’s worlds. Simon I love because he’s this big nerd wrapped up in a Savile Row suit and gold-rimmed glasses and presenting the world a confident, dashing portrait whereas really, inside, he’s still a little boy forever trying to win love and approval. I love how he sees the world as a chess board. From the very first chapter he is setting up his board and assembling all of the major players that will factor into his story. He’s very kind at heart he just has a terrible way of showing vulnerability. For Sophie, I love that she is forever convincing herself and us that she is this strong and capable woman who doesn’t need love and doesn’t want Simon ( and she is—both strong and capable—)but she is absolutely mad for him and she just doesn’t realize it yet. I love how Sophie always rushes to Simon’s defense and believes in him as far more than the illegitimate heir who is such a burden to his family. The anger and frustration she shows on his behalf, to me, is one of the most amazing parts about her. When she gives her loyalty to him that is far more powerful than most women declaring love.
Setting is often another important “character” in your stories. What can you say about the settings included in The Mozart Code?
I really love Vienna, obviously and it is such an interesting counterpart to Prague. Because in the Kalter Krieg (Cold War) both were very close to falling behind the Iron Curtain — but only Prague did. I also found they had other fascinating parallels that made me choose them as the two starring cities: one they both had close ties to Mozart because he lived and composed in both. Yet, Prague celebrated him in his lifetime and Vienna saw his early demise met with a Pauper’s grave. Another interesting reason to pair them was the work of Anton Pilgram: one of the architects whose churches and designs are housed in both cities ( if you read The London Restoration, you know I am a nut about church architecture, lol). I am also quite in love with the themes of restitution and restoration and finding beauty in the rubble by being able to see (as my heroine Diana Somerville does), the prospect of what the city will be after it is made new. Hitler forbade his pilots from bombing Prague whereas Vienna suffered a lot of bombing (especially near the very end of the war): so while Vienna is scarred, Prague was still intact— at least surfacely: we soon learn that there are a lot of Communist undercurrents and the Czech Republic would be under Communist rule after the events of The Mozart Code for almost half a century.
But I am a lot like Diana in that I believe “each city had chosen human portals through which to whisper their secrets.” I am personally passionate about and fascinated by Vienna and Prague so I really wanted to convey their romance and hardships to the reader.
Are there any interesting historical tidbits you came across in your research you were not able to include in the story?
Anything to do with the churches! I really, really, really wanted to include so many more churches in both Vienna and Prague but I had to remind myself ( as did my editor), this is Sophie’s story not Diana’s. Heck, Diana needed another book just for the churches here lol. I also had to cut more about Mozart and the Mozart family. Readers may not realize I do five times as much research as funnels into the novel so that I can hopefully confidently relay that my characters are experts in these things.
I also had to cut a lot of the Bletchley Park flashbacks: especially as Sophie worked with the Bombe machines and I did a TON of research on those machines so it was a shame to have them gone.
What are you currently reading, OR what is the best book you’ve read lately?
I loved The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn. I also read and loved an early copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews because it is SUCH a Beauty and the Beast meets The Blue Castle type book and has some of my favourite tropes. I reread The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn to review for Austenprose ( it’s the book the most recent season of Bridgerton is based on). I love a tortured hero who just wants love and a marriage of convenience so it was a fun re-read! I also am MADLY in love with the new Elizabeth Camden book Written on The Wind which I think is her best to date and her editor calls me “the patron saint” of that book and I think I am … I LOVE IT
As readers enjoy this new release and are already eager for another novel from you (I’m talking about myself here, HAHA!), can you tell us what’s next for you?
True story: if I press ALT and TAB on my macbook there is always a Three Quarter Time novel in progress. I really love writing those but alas the paying contracts have to come first. But I do hope to get (finally) Memory in Three Quarter Time finished someday! I have a collaborative novel coming out in March 2023 with two authors—J’Nell Ciesielski and Aimie K. Runyan—for Harper Muse called The Castle Keepers. In this book, it is a Yorkshire castle set across three wars with three different romances. Aimie is doing The Boer War, J’Nell WWI and my romance is set just after WWII when the castle is commandeered as a retreat for soldiers suffering from shell shock. There’s a cat named Sigmund Freud ☺
Next September I have a novel coming out that is as of yet untitled but that I call Pimpernel –and with good cause— it is a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel story set in Nazi Occupied Rouen and Paris and it features a daring adventure and a classic love story. I think you will all love Phineas and Marlena!
Is there anything readers need to know to set up this “DELETED SCENE” from The Mozart Code?
One of the things I had to balance in writing The Mozart Code was making it a standalone story while still nodding to the established events of The London Restoration. And the careful reader will remember that Simon got pneumonia and Sophie is clearly worried about him and Diana tries to coax her friend into admitting what she’s feeling but Sophie shrugs it off. We, of course, move on and Simon gets better because we see their world through Di’s eyes but I always knew what was going on beyond the surface there as I knew Simon and Sophie’s true relationship while writing that book. We just are seeing the same time period in Simon and Sophie’s viewpoint instead of Diana’s and so I had to cut this moment in flashback where Sophie sneaks out of her Bletchley boarding flat and goes to visit him. I confess, it is not perfect or edited but I hope it gives you a glance of what I wanted to do with their relationship ☺
If Simon couldn’t be healthy, she would be strong for both of them, she determined. Later, as an air raid siren shrilled and a formation of planes took low over the fields and downs, she suspected that while others wires and radars were attuned to their spouses, their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters in times of constant peril, her frequency was leveled with Simon’s. As it had been when she defended him in front of his father and brother. As it had been when she was briefly installed in the SOE. As it would be while he was ill in hospital and she failed at keeping her emotions in a straight, rigid line.
But frequencies, like wires, could stretch and bend and snap leaving each recipient at the end of their wave vulnerable to the consequences of a terminated signal. Sophie didn’t fancy being so disconnected from Simon.
So, later that night after she had listened to Diana yip on about the chess game she lost against Fisher Carne at the pub, Sophie took action.
She tiptoed out of the house and locked the door quietly behind her. It was past curfew and getting into the Park would take a not inconsiderable amount of care. Fisher had left a note that Simon had been moved home from hospital to spend the last part of his convalescence. He also told her that when he had been at Simon’s billet flat, he had been able to enter through a side door near the garden.
Sophie knocked softly. She hated making him get out of bed when he was ill but she’d rather that than fall through the window and scare him half to death.
A moment later, the light flickered on to dispel the shadow of the narrow, stone path and the door creaked open.
Simon was pale, thinner than usual and subsequently his blue eyes seemed wider as they bore out at her in the darkness. He tied his robe.
“Let me in so you don’t catch your death…again.” She whispered.
He stepped back and she joined him. He turned on a few lights and was winded with the movement.
“Sit down.” She grabbed his arm and led him to the sofa. Once he was seated, she grabbed a quilt draped over a neighbouring chair and tucked it up over his shoulders. “Oh Simon, what a mess.”
“Villiers…” his voice was a little raspy. “What are you doing here?”
Sophie smoothed his unkempt hair from his forehead. “Who is taking care of you?”
“I’m feeling much better.” He shivered and winnowed down in the blanket.
“I can see that. You look dismal, Simon. I’ll make tea.”
He waved his hand in the direction of the kettle and cooktop and Sophie started to work, aware that Simon’s gaze was on her slightest movement.
“I can wrangle a Tetley’s bag into a pot.”
“I didn’t say anything.” Simon whispered.
“You were thinking it.”
Several moments later she ensured Simon’s hand was wrapped around the steaming mug. She took her own mug to the arm chair, stirring the liquid– not out of preference –but occupation for her fingers.
“You must be bored out of your tree.” She observed after a long moment.
Simon blew on the tea and slowly raised the mug to his cracked lips. “I’ve a lot on my mind.”
“I thought I was going to die.”
“Pshaw. People don’t die from pneumonia.”
“Yes they do.” He wheezed. “All the time.”
“Well, you are not people.”
“If my landlady finds you here.”
“It’ll besmirch my reputation.” Sophie waved a hand. She watched Simon take a slow sip. Then she looked around the tidy but compact flat, her eyes settling on a decanter on the side table near the wireless. “Ah!” She rose and strolled toward it. She opened the lid and smelled. “Here…” she turned to Simon. “Give me your mug.” She poured a liberal splash of brandy into each of their tea mugs.
“Are you sure…?” Simon began.
“Medicinal.” Sophie said.
Simon’s eyelashes fluttered over his cheekbones.
“If I don’t…”
“Oh Lord. I didn’t risk my spotless reputation to hear you profess anything.” Sophie sipped her brandy-laced tea. “So don’t profess anything.” She studied Simon’s modest but comfortable surroundings: mahogany wood, lace curtains, neatly lined books and a few gold-garnished picture frames. He was going to say something. Something that might hold the word she told him never to say and she steadied herself to prepare for it.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happens after this war.”
“This war. Tut tut. I’ve had enough war.”
He coughed through his smile. “It’s like we’re a vaudeville routine.” Simon sipped tea. Stretched. “If I survive…”
“Do not bore me, Simon Barrington. You know very well you are going to survive or else they wouldn’t have sent you home.”
“Home?” he lifted the quilt demonstratively. “Is that where I am? Anyhow, Villiers,
if I don’t survive…”
“You’re fine.” It rolled easily off of her tongue. She had used it in a long line of syllables to convince herself time and again since he was in hospital.
“Then I need you to know…”
Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t tell me. Don’t loop those letters together. Don’t make me frightened of you when you are at your weakest.