Saturday, October 24, 2009
A Mischievous Charade...
Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, is tired of her title and the responsibilities that come along with it. Enough with proper tea parties and elegant balls; what Harriet really wants is to attend an outrageous soiree where she can unleash her wildest whims and desires. But to attend such an event - especially if the event in question is Lord Justinian Strange's rollicking fete, filled with noble rogues and rotters, risque ladies and illicit lovers - would be certain scandal. That's why she must disguise herself...
Looking forward to a night of uninhibited pleasure, Lord Strange is shocked to discover that beneath the clothes of a no-good rake is the most beautiful woman in the room. Why is a woman like her risking her reputation at his notorious affair? And can he possibly entice her to stay... forever?
This book wasn't bad, but not great. It got off to a slow start while the reader is trying to figure out who all the main characters are. Harriet is a widowed duchess, a somewhat dowdy figure who never felt truly loved by her dead husband that had a passion for... chess. He killed himself over a chess game.
Harriet has a couple of close girlfriends, who are all duchesses as well and one of them (who has her own set of problems that comes out in the next book in this series) wants to go to this scandalous Lord Strange's house party in the country, to try and make her own husband jealous. Harriet accompanies her - dressed as a young man, a Mr. Cope. Harriet loves the freedom being a young man gives her and she enjoys wearing britches instead of long skirts. She no longer has to worry about elaborate hair do's, she can just wear her hair in a quieu now. But, she didn't count on how difficult it would be to pull off this sham in front of all the other men. She has to act like a man, just as much as look like one.
Once they meet the host of the party, the book starts to really get better. Lord Strange is a paradox. He holds these scandalous non-stop parties at his estate, yet he has an eight year old daughter that he keeps hidden away in the West Wing of the house under lock and key, so none of the nefarious guests he hosts can get close to her. WTF? I had a real problem with him, I didn't really like him all that much because to me this was his fatal flaw - he was completely clueless when it came to taking care of his daughter, who winds up being bitten by a rat (in her bed - eww!)and gets "rat bite fever" and nearly dies!
His daughter is extremely intelligent and advanced for her age and she seems happy enough but as Harriet gets to know the Lord and his daughter better she has trouble with the way he takes care of her as well. Mr. Cope and Lord Strange become friends, though Lord Strange aka Jem can't help feeling unnervingly uncomfortable around her/him. He finds himself attracted to Cope, yet cannot reconcile the idea that he may be attracted to another man - a young, beautiful young man that has large brown eyes that turn violet with long, lush lashes. What's getting into him? All the other guests assume that Harriet's young man is a "molly" (a gay man) and rumors start to fly that so is Lord Strange and he's taken a fancy to Mr. Cope.
Meanwhile, Strange has taken Cope under his wing to make him more of a man - he teaches him how to fence and ride and before long Harriet is finding herself falling for him. Their mutual friend, the Duke of Villiers, who is in on the whole charade of Harriet's, lets onto Strange what Harriet really is, but he does not let him know she is a duchess. Strange enjoys teasing Harriet along, making her think, he thinks she's a man (confusing, I know), but it was one of the best scenes in the book. Eventually, the truth comes out (but not to the rest of the house party) and Harriet and Jem begin an affaire. She is long due for something like this and as we find out, so is he.
But, can they continue their affair when he finds out that she's really a duchess? Will his feelings change for her once he finds out she's not some little nobody country squire's widow? He has some dark family secrets that he is afraid to admit to and both of them are too afraid to admit to them and the affair ends and Harriet packs up and leaves. I found it so frustrating that they didn't try and make it work harder. Both just gave up!
It all ends happily, but not quite as I expected. I enjoyed this little romp in the country, but it was nothing that I'll think back on as very memorable. As I said before, I was not won over by Lord Strange, but I did like Harriet, we do get the impression that she whips him into shape and changes his priorities and mores - which he is sorely in need of. There are a few sensual moments in the book that were well done, but overall I found the element of "romance" a bit lacking. It was more like these two people came together who hadn't had any romance in their life for a long time and it was suddenly, "wow!" for both of them, yet I couldn't get past Strange's lifestyle and his profound stupidity in bringing up his daughter in a house full of roues and orgiastic type parties in which he has to keep her bottled up for fear one of his guests may come upon her and rape her! Uggh! Yet, he was so intelligent in other matters like mathematics and architecture and money and business. Such the stereotype of a man, when it comes to "manly" things he's great, but anything domestic - forget it! Pfft!
I'm reading this series, starting on the third book, since I heard the first two were really not very good. The latest book in the series is supposed to be great, so that's why I picked this up in the first place. I do look forward to the next book in the series about Harriet's friend, Isidore who wanted to make her husband jealous at the house party. I hope I like it better than this one! This is my 2nd book by this author, the last one did not endear me to her, but I'm still willing to give her a chance - but she's not making it easy!