Rating: 4 stars
Thanks to Mrs. Julien for her awesome romance review template!
Knaves’ Wager is a romance of the you are everything I never knew I always wanted AND opposites attract variety: Boy meets girl. He is the reprobate former best friend of her now-dead husband. She hates him because she believes he drove her husband to his early death, and is left owing him crippling gambling debts. He agrees to a foolish wager to seduce her against all odds. Boy and girl move forward together secure in their love and commitment.
A historical romance set in the Regency era just around the end of the Napoleonic wars and written by Loretta Chase, Knaves’ Wager is my fourteenth book by this author. I generally find her work at least enjoyable, and at its best, spectacular and infinitely re-readable. Chase is, most famously, the author of Lord of Scoundrels, the book All About Romance’s readers have voted as the number one in their top 100 for more than a decade. Personally, I prefer The Last Hellion, but what do I know? I found Knaves’ Wager, one of her early romances diverting, enjoyable and romantic. This book is a clean (lacking in any sex scenes, graphic or otherwise) romance, and I’ve seen it compared to the writing of Georgette Heyer. However, none of the Heyer books I’ve read contain the palpable sexual tension present in this novel, or kisses half so scorching as some of the ones in this book, so be aware that it’s not entirely chaste. I have several of Chase’s early romances still on my TBR List and will continue to seek them out because this one really was very enjoyable indeed and I would absolutely recommend it to others.
The main plot of Knaves’ Wager focuses on the reformation of a rake. Lord Julian Wyndhurst, Marquess of Brandon is that rake. He is stinking rich, handsome as sin and has a reputation for gambling and vice. He’s also been on the Continent for seven years since his involvement in a particularly scandalous duel, working closely to bring down Napoleon, and is exasperated to be brought home only to sort out his young cousin, Lord Robert Downs’s scandalous betrothal. Lilith Davenant is a widow and a victim of circumstance. She is formidable, all that is proper, decorous and virtuous, and a caring and affectionate aunt, willing to sacrifice even the last remains of her fortune to secure happier futures for her nieces and nephews than she herself found in her unfortunate marriage. Due to her husband’s gambling debts to Lord Brandon, she is forced to accept the proposal of an old friend to secure her future. Brandon agrees to seduce Lilith in order to get Robert’s mercenary mistress to release Robert from the betrothal. Julian and Lilith start out as antagonists, at least in Lilith’s eyes, yet they cannot deny the attraction they feel towards each other. Over time, they come to discover that despite any challenges they face, they make an excellent team.
The subplot in Knaves’ Wager revolves around Robert, Brandon’s young, somewhat dim cousin and Lilith’s clever niece Miss Cecily Glenwood, who is in London for her first season. The seemingly guileless country miss sets about not only getting her chosen husband, but making sure her aunt doesn’t end up in a stuffy marriage of convenience either. It was an excellent addition which nicely complemented the main plot.
While an early effort of Chase’s, written in the early 1990s, this novel still has great characterisations, an excellent eye for detail and wonderfully witty banter. Brandon really has his work cut out for him, wooing and charming the icy Lilith, and it’s glorious to see the calculating libertine gradually fall head over heels for the irreproachable widow. As some of Chase’s most recent novels have been rather mediocre and a bit of a disappointment, it was delightful to discover that I have more of her good work to look forward to. For anyone wanting a gateway into romance reading, you would be strongly recommended to check out Loretta Chase, but avoid her Dressmaker series, pretty much everything else she’s written is better.
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