Wednesday 24 May 2017
#CBR9 Book 50: "Then Came You" by Lisa Kleypas
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler warning! This book has such a magnificently all over the place, crazy-sauce plot that it will be absolutely impossible for me to properly show my appreciation for the book without spoiling quite a lot of it. If you don't want to know details - keep an eye out further down.
Miss Wilhelmina "Lily" Lawson, also known in much of London as "Lawless Lily" is estranged from her family, but has been able to live independently due to a large inheritance from an eccentric aunt. When she's not shocking society with her wild antics, she's known to keep company with notorious gambling hell owner Derek Craven, and the most popular rumour is that she is his mistress. When Lily is visited by an old family friend, Zachary, Lord Stamford, she discovers that her gentle younger sister Penelope is engaged to marry the haughty Alex, Lord Wolverton, the Earl of Raiford. As Zachary is madly in love with Penelope, he begs Lily's help in stopping the marriage.
Lily tries to get an impression of what Raiford is like, and is first introduced to him during a hunt. What she doesn't realise is that Raiford's former fiancee, Caroline Whit-more, died two years ago in a riding accident, and Raiford therefore gets freaked out when women insist on participating in hunts. After Lily falls off her horse, she finds herself cradled in his arms and thoroughly scolded, and she pretty much concludes that he's a madman, who won't be marrying any sister of hers.
Lily shows up at Raiford House, where the wedding is being planned, ostensibly to grovel and be let back into her parents' good graces. She does whatever she can to sabotage the wedding plans. She pretends that Zachary is her suitor, in the hopes of making Penelope jealous and it seems to be working. While her parents appear taken in by her contrite and remorseful behaviour, Raiford isn't fooled for one second. It's not that he loves Penelope, in fact, after losing his beloved fiancee, he selected a kind and biddable young virgin specifically because she was the opposite of his headstrong former love, but he won't have his affairs meddled with, and certainly not by someone as scandalous as Lily Lawson.
As Lily's plans progress, Raiford becomes more and more frustrated, not least because he realises that the sister he truly wants certainly isn't Penelope. Once Lily ups the ante and starts to fight dirty, Raiford is forced to admit that his stellar reputation and pedigree isn't going to help him one bit. What's more, beating "Lawless Lily" at her own game might be one of the most fun things he's done in years.
I got this book years and years ago in an e-book sale and then promptly forgot about it. Since I've been trying to be better about reading things I actually OWN, my current comfort reading needs had me looking through my shelves for romance, and some previously untried Kleypas seemed to fit the bill. I had absolutely no idea what was waiting for me in this book. I had to resort to taking notes as I read, just to be able to remember everything afterwards. While there was some stuff that made me rather uncomfortable, most of it certainly kept me both entertained and surprised, and despite having finished the book nearly three weeks ago, I still keep thinking about it, so I can't possibly rate it lower than four stars. Before I basically reveal the whole plot further down, I can say that I highly recommend the book and Lily and Alex are now among my favourite Kleypas couples.
DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT IF YOU DON'T WANT PLOT SPOILERS!
SERIOUSLY - JUST SKIP TO MY MUSINGS ON THE COVER.
Ok, if you're still here, there is nothing I can do. First of all, I want to address the things that really didn't work for me. First of all, Lily is apparently a very petite and delicate woman, but keeps being compared to a doll or a child. That is NOT ok when you're actually talking about a grown woman, the heroine in a romance novel, who in the latter part of the book especially, engages in quite a lot of steamy love scenes. Just a selection of phrases that really squicked me out. "You're so beautiful. Beautiful like a perfect little doll". "He lifted her like a toy" and "She fell asleep with the suddenness of a tired child". Oh, and just before her wedding, Lily looks in the mirror and thinks she looks like a 15-year-old. Urgh. These are just a few examples that I noted down AFTER I actually began taking notes because it was disturbing me so much. Grown women, no matter how petite, should not be infantilized, but Kleypas keeps doing it throughout.
Another scene that really did not work well for me, and that I suspect may not have appeared in a historical romance written now (this one originally came out in 1993) is the scene where after Lily has lured Alex to London, after pretty much abducting his younger brother and closest living relative, she knocks him out with a bottle and ties him to her bed. Once he is incapacitated and tied firmly to her bed, she proceeds to pretty much lie on top of him and make sexual advances at him, while he is helpless to resist. Just imagine if the roles were reversed in that scene. It would not be quirky or flirtatious, it would just be deeply inappropriate and borderline rapey.
Despite those things, this book is a lot of fun, and absolutely bonkers. There's our heroine, who seems to be accepted in much of polite society (possibly because all the men hope to make her their mistress). She has a (unbeknownst to petty much everyone) platonic friendship with a famous gambling house owner, one of the richest men in London. In the very first chapter, she throws her hat in the water during a boating party, and when none of the guys are willing to jump in the water to retrieve it, she does so herself.
She was jilted at the altar at twenty, and this clearly affected her deeply. She lived abroad for many years with an eccentric aunt, whose fortune she inherited. Her one sexual encounter with a creepy Italian nobleman put her off sex entirely and also led to her getting pregnant. Her tiny plot moppet, Nicole, has been kidnapped by the nefarious baby daddy, who is now blackmailing her, which is why she needs to gamble so much - her fortune is more or less gone. She's determined to break up her younger sister's betrothal to Raiford, so said sister can elope and marry Lord Stamford instead. In order to make this happen, Lily tempts Henry, Raiford's brother to come to London with her and deposits him at Craven's club. She then proceeds with the knocking unconscious and tying to a bed plot.
To get revenge, Alex shows up at Craven's and bets 15000 pounds for one night with her. She loses (of course she does) and our hero consequently wins the right to bed her in a card game. While Lily tries to get out of it, Craven insists that they "seal the deal", in his bedroom no less. It turns out that Lily doesn't hate sex, it was just that she had an abysmal first experience, and when she's in bed with an actually skilled and considerate lover, she enjoys it just fine. Not that she wants anything to do with Alex once their one night is over. He totally has other plans, however. During a masquerade at Craven's, where Lily is more or less half-naked, dressed as Eve, trying desperately to win enough money to pay off her blackmailer again, Alex shows up as Lucifer and ends up tossing Lily over his shoulder and carrying her off, causing a much bigger scandal than Lily ever managed on her own.
She believes he wants her as his mistress, he proposes marriage instead, and gives her the money she needs to pay off her blackmailer once more (he believes she's paying off a gambling debt). While Lily is off in the seedy part of London meeting with the creep who stole her virtue and her child, she also ends up buying a decrepit old bear to save it from a fighting pit. She's about to be attacked and sexually assaulted by some thugs, but her husband shows up and shows remarkable brawling skills for a nobleman.
Having kept her deep dark secret from everyone for two years, Lily finally tearfully confesses to her husband about her missing illegitimate daughter, but only after he's caught her IN the arms of her blackmailer at a society party. I want it noted that I kept wanting to shake her for most of the book for not coming clean sooner. Raiford, of course, has all sorts of useful connections, and within a few days of Lily telling her husband the truth, they have helped the authorities uncover a large child snatching ring in the the slums and reunited Lily with her child. All is bliss, and to top it all off, there is the near-obligatory pregnancy epilogue.
Seriously, the plot is all over the place, but I came to enjoy the central romance enough that I didn't even care about the constant reminders that Lily was delicate and slender and so dainty or that she pretty much commits sexual assault as well as kidnapping and the like. I could have done without the melodramatic plot moppet abduction, and Lily's TSTL attitude towards blackmail (of course he's not going to stop when you keep handing over thousands of pounds every so often in the desperate hopes that you may get your child back), but Lily and Alex's progression from antagonists to really very passionate lovers (the smexy times in this book are really quite something).
Kleypas gives us enough back story throughout the book to make us understand exactly how both Lily and Alex ended up becoming the people they are at the start of the book, and it's obvious that they are both so very good for one another. Alex needs to stop grieving for his lost fiancee and loosen up A LOT and Lily frustrates and challenges him in a way he really needs. Lily has had no one to rely on since her aunt died and her daughter was kidnapped years ago and is so very used to rescuing and taking care of others, without ever allowing anyone to see her weaknesses or letting herself be cared for.
The truly remarkable thing about Alex is that once he admits that he's absolutely crazy about Lily, he doesn't hide the fact. It's rare in romance for the hero to make his declaration of love first, and once Alex has embraced his feelings for Lily, he really does love her exactly the way she is. He doesn't really try to change or control her, he just wants to make sure that she doesn't rush headlong into danger, and he accepts the fact that she may never love him back. When he first proposes his absolutely outrageous bet at Craven's, he believes her to be Craven's mistress, yet wants her nonetheless. Once he discovers that she is in fact not only inexperienced, but had an awful first time, he does his best to be as considerate and caring a lover as any woman could hope for.
As I said, for all that there were bits of the book that rubbed me the wrong way, I also couldn't put the book down and my thoughts keep coming back to it and the lovely relationship that Alex and Lily build during the second half of the novel. Having also recently re-read the next book in the series, Dreaming of You, I ended up enjoying this book more overall and I was not expecting that.
Judging a book by its cover: Yet another romance cover with a not very period appropriate dress, with skirts that go on forever. Even with the yards and yards of skirt in the forefront of the cover, we still see most of the cover model's legs. That seems to require special effort. Since the lady on the cover is sitting down, it's difficult to ascertain if she's as petite as Lily is supposed to be (although maybe that's why her dress is too long, her modiste just forced her into a gown made for someone much bigger?) Yeah, let's go with that. At least her hair colour is correct, even though this lady appears to have her hair in an updo, and Lily's is cut fairly short.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.