Thursday, 8 March 2018
#CBR10 Book 14: "The Lady in Red" by Kelly Bowen
Rating: 4 stars
Lady Charlotte Beaumont has been overlooked and ignored by her family for her entire life. Generally isolated at a remote country estate, she's had the opportunity to hone her artistic skills, way past the bland watercolours ladies of her station are normally allowed to paint. She's also become quite a talented forger, and tries to use her skills to negotiate a deal with the infamous King of the London Underworld. He acknowledges her skill, but also calls her bluff. Nevertheless impressed, he agrees to help her, in return for the original painting she's trying to sell him a forgery of, and a favour to be called in at a later date. This is how Lady Charlotte is introduced to Miss Clara Hayward and her prestigious boarding school, Haverhall School for Young Ladies. Clara and her sister help Lady Charlotte become "Charlie" Beaumont, a promising young painter.
Flynn Rutledge has worked very hard to be one of the two painters to restore the murals at the Church of St. Michael, and initially feels both threatened and a bit offended when he meets the other young man who's been accepted to the job. It doesn't take him long to realise that Charlie Beaumont, despite being young, is extremely talented. Soon they are working well together and developing a slow friendship until a fateful evening when they are set upon by bandits, and Charlie jumps into the fray to defend Flynn, ending up being stabbed as a result. When Flynn removes Charlie's shirt, he realises why his workmate has been so secretive.
The two painters soon become lovers, but Charlotte still keeps certain things secret from Flynn, knowing that the man hates and distrusts nobility because of his history. He didn't mind that Charlie turned out to be a woman, but how will he react if he discovers that his lover is of noble birth?
This novella is sort of a bridging story between Kelly Bowen's Season for Scandal series, featuring underworld kingpin King towards the beginning, and her new series, The Devils of Dover, by introducing Clara Hayward and the Haverhall School for Young Ladies. While Clara's school is a very prestigious and expensive boarding school for young women in the highest echelons of society, she also offers a "summer program" for women who want to try their hands at professions not considered ladylike. With the help of Clara and her sister, Lady Charlotte finds herself disguised as a young man and granted a very sought-after commission at St. Michael's church. The architect in charge of restoring the building has worked with Clara before and knows Lady Charlotte's real identity, but clearly wants the most talented artist for the job, no matter what their gender.
Flynn is one of those heroes from a very poor background, who has had to work extremely hard to gain the position he has attained so far. His ultimate, and nearly impossible, goal is to have a painting displayed at the Royal Academy (it was his mother's fondest wish before she died). He was used and discarded by a noblewoman in the past, hence his distrust and scorn for the nobility.
Charlotte may come from a rich family, but she has clearly never really felt loved and taught herself to paint to alleviate the loneliness of being left in the country by herself for pretty much years on end. She clearly has absolutely no scruples about forging famous paintings, nor about giving them up in order to secure herself a better life (nor should she - her family are clearly the worst). She's very worried about how Flynn will react if he ever discovers her true identity. She's never been as happy as when she's painting the church murals with him. She never intends to return to her family and doesn't see why her noble title should get in the way of their happiness.
This is a tightly paced and very satisfying story, and it also made me more interested in reading more about Lady Clara and her unorthodox summer school for enterprising young ladies. This story really can be read entirely stand-alone to all of Ms. Bowen's other books though, which is also a bonus.
Judging a book by its cover: Neither the cover nor the title have ANYTHING to do with this novella. At all. Based on the cover and title, you might be forgiven for thinking this was a Christmas story, probably featuring a lady wearing red at some point. Nope. None of that at all. The novella is not set at Christmas, and no woman in the story at any point wears red. I genuinely wonder if Kelly Bowen told her publishers she was writing one story and then changed her mind, but the cover was already commissioned, so they kept it? Or they just slapped any old cover they had leftover on this story. It's a mystery.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.