To marry their daughters off, four social-climbing men in 1790s London hatch a plot: Buy a pianoforte (the au courant instrument of the late 18th century) and have them give a concert that will have noblemen lined up for their hands in marriage.

The ladies are as varied as their fathers are ambitious: emaciated Georgiana; Everina with her unfortunate false teeth; mysterious Alathea; and the Brass sisters, practical Harriet and lumpy Marianne.

The men hire a French pianist to teach the daughters, but Monsieur Belladroit has another agenda. He is working for the bitter man who made the pianoforte, whose own daughter is disfigured and will never be married off. Belladroit is paid to sabotage the girls’ performance, seducing them one by one as part of their training. Only Alathea, smart and independent, is immune to him. But she hides a dark secret about her relationship with her father, and her struggle to get out from under his control ends in a shocking act of violence.

Sedition could easily have dissolved into semi-kinky melodrama, a chronicle of Belladroit’s conquests. Thanks to author Katharine Grant’s sly writing, it never does. Just when things get tense, she lightens the mood with a dose of the competitive girls comparing notes on Belladroit, or even better, their truly doltish fathers comparing notes on their brilliant scheme. As the disastrous lessons progress, the clueless fathers congratulate themselves: “The die was cast; they could relax, though Brass had been stirring things, asking what would happen if Harriet married a duke and Marianne a baronet. Would one set of grandchildren have to bow to another?”

Grant is better known as K.M. Grant, an author of children’s books, including the de Granville trilogy. Sedition is her first adult novel, and while the ending may be a little too tidy for some, the book remains a thumping debut filled with sex, manipulation and a dash of romance. Wickedly dark and provocative, Sedition is a bold reminder that the thirst for power and status remains unquenched over the ages.

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