Friday 17 November 2017

#CBR9 Books 99-100: "Fortune Favors the Wicked" and "Passion Favors the Bold" by Theresa Romain

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Benedict Frost is a celebrated lieutenant in the Royal Navy, but is forced to leave his naval career after an illness leaves him incapable of serving on a ship. He's hoping to supplement his not very generous pension by having a book of his memoirs published, but that proves more difficult that he initially thought. He wants the money to provide a dowry for his younger sister, so when he hears that a large shipment of gold from the Royal Mint has gone missing, and there is a sizable reward offered, he decides to use the skills at his disposal to try to locate the missing treasure.

His hunt leads him to Derbyshire, where a high born friend has given him a letter of introduction to stay with the local vicar. He meets the mysterious and charming Charlotte Perry, who turns out to be rather more than the proper and demure vicar's daughter she presents herself as in the village. Charlotte is also looking for the missing gold, intending to use the gold to secure a respectable future for herself and her niece. While she and Benedict begin as rivals, they quickly figure out that it will be much easier if they work together, using Charlotte's local knowledge and Benedict's experience from his travels to locate the treasure.

I have read a number of novels by Theresa Romain, and while they've all been perfectly ok, none of them have really stuck in my memory for very long. I'm happy to say that this is the first book of hers that I was really impressed by and I was thoroughly entertained throughout. While the treasure hunt is the device that brings them together, the romance between Charlotte and Benedict is clearly the most important plot element here and they're such an interesting couple. Benedict was forced to leave the navy after he was struck blind after an illness. He's only been blind for about four years, and has clearly worked very hard to compensate for his lack of sight since he was forced to retire. Due to his changed circumstances, he gets a fairly small pension and lives in tiny quarters as a Naval Knight in Windsor Castle. He's done independent travel since he was blinded, and hoped to publish his memoirs, but is told by the publisher that unless he publishes his book as a work of fiction, it's not going to sell. No one would believe a blind man went on the adventures he's been on. He needs money to provide for his younger sister, who is about to turn twenty-one and is currently living on the charity of relatives in the living quarters of the book shop their parents owned before they died.

Benedict first runs into Charlotte in the local pub in the village where she grew up. She's heavily veiled in a corner, and he is intrigued by her presence and the clearly assumed name she gives him. They are both there to listen to the ever more dramatic tales of a young barmaid who was given one of the missing gold sovereigns as a tip. When Benedict comes to stay with the local vicar, he's surprised to discover that Charlotte is in fact their spinster daughter, who has been away for much of the last ten years "doing virtuous works". The truth is that after Charlotte fell in love and was ruined by a young man, she went to London and made a very lucrative career as a sought-after courtesan, La Perle. Rather disillusioned with this life, she needs the money to retire somewhere comfortable and take care of her orphaned niece, currently being raised by Charlotte's parents. Charlotte is obviously trying very hard to not have the respectable vicar's daughter connected to the infamous courtesan, a task made more difficult because of an arrogant noble patron determined to track her down.

While neither Charlotte nor Benedict are much into their thirties, it was still nice to read about characters who had some actual worldly experience and who felt a lot more mature than a lot of the normal protagonists you find in romance. They communicate very well together from the start, and there was surprisingly little drama between them, even as they are struggling to figure out a way to reconcile their wishes for the future. The book also briefly introduces both of the protagonists of the companion novel - Benedict's good friend, Lord Hugo Starling (who writes him the letter of introduction to Reverend Perry, with whom he's been corresponding for years) and younger sister, Georgette, who is a bit sick of feeling like a financial burden to all her relatives and is more than ready to go off to make her own way in the world.

Judging a book by its cover: I think this cover is pretty great, actually. The cover model is clearly not in the first blush of youth, which would have been very inappropriate anyway. The dress she's wearing is gorgeous, just look at that embroidery! The rural landscape she's standing in also feels very on point - and there are no partially undone laces, or skirts that go on for days or any of the rubbish that you so often see on historical romances. Just a pretty lady in a pretty (and period appropriate dress).

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Georgette Frost's parents are dead, and though the bookshop they ran when they were alive was sold to some cousins, it was stipulated in their will that Georgette be allowed to live there until she turned 21, an event that is only a few weeks away. Helping out in the bookstore and trying her best to help raise all of her cousin's many children isn't exactly anyone's dream, and when Georgette gets a letter from Derbyshire from her brother, and figures out that he is off hunting for the missing gold and the Royal Reward, she decides that living on the charity of relatives is all well and good, but making your own way in the world is better.

She disguises herself as a boy and intends to go find her brother, but is quickly found and intercepted by Lord Hugo Starling, her brother's best friend. Lord Hugo is the younger son of the Duke of Willingham and met Benedict Frost when they studied medicine together in Edinburgh. While a duke's son being a doctor is unusual, Hugo rejected family and society expectations to become one after his twin brother died tragically several years ago. Hugo is convinced his brother could have survived if he had a properly trained doctor, not just the most prestigious and recommended by other nobles. He is more or less estranged from his family, and struggling to find funding for a new and innovative London hospital. Hugo wants to leave Georgette with his mother, but she promises she'll just run away again. She also persuades him that if he's involved in finding the missing gold sovereigns, the publicity he'll get will no doubt help him secure the funding for his hospital.

Hugo therefore reluctantly agrees to escort Georgette to Derbyshire, as he can't let her travel alone. They haven't been long underway when they discover that the gold has clearly been divided up, as there are rumours of unusual gold transactions as far north as Northumberland. Posing as husband and wife, Hugo and Georgette, pursued by a dogged Bow Street Runner named Jenks end up on the estate of a rather befuddled baronet, who Georgette has claimed is her uncle. Sir Frederic Chapple doesn't really like the nosy Jenks, and is rather bored, so happily plays along when Georgette implores him not to give up their true identities. While staying on his lands and trying to figure out where the gold is hidden, Hugo offers up his medical knowledge to the local tenants, and Georgette acts as his nurse and assistant.

As with every single story involving a couple pretending to be married, Georgette and Hugo obviously fall madly in love with one another. Georgette has always desperately wanted somewhere to truly belong, even when her parents were alive, her scholarly parents were so engrossed in each other and the books they sold, that they barely noticed her. Her older brother was always away at sea, and after he was blinded, he mostly stayed away. She wants to be part of a proper family unit and seen and appreciated, even loved for herself. Having grown up in a book shop, she's intelligent and opinionated and even against his better judgement, Hugo is always persuaded by her in the end.

Hugo lost his beloved twin brother and feels both guilt and anger because of it. He's a living reminder to his parents (and himself, every time he looks in a mirror) of what was lost, and he cannot forgive his father for not listening when Hugo insisted the doctors were less than useless, and possibly even hurried along his brother's death with their antiquated methods. He refused to join the clergy, as expected of him, and trained himself to be a modern and progressive doctor. Hugo wants to build the hospital in London to care for patients of all classes, not just the wealthy (which is why he's finding it so hard to find funding). Tending to the various patients in Northumberland, he also comes to discover how nice it is to help people at a local level, and begins to doubt whether his hospital is the best way to move forward.

Once again, this was a Theresa Romain book that I genuinely enjoyed, and the treasure hunting plot is really just the maguffin that throws the couple together. Part road trip, part detective story, the main focus is again the couple spending lots of time together and as a result, falling for each other. As in the companion book, set at roughly the same time, the protagonists are both really nice people who suit each other well. While there are external complications and even some danger, there is very little drama between the two of them, and it feels very satisfying when they realise their feelings for the other.

I now feel somewhat bad that these two books have languished on my TBR shelf for so long. I'm very glad I finally read them, and will no doubt revisit both in the future.

Judging a book by its cover: Once again, a fairly simple cover. Pretty cover model in a rural landscape. I really like the outfit, which fits the description of one Georgette wears over the course of the story, having tied a yellow shawl around her dress to make it more colourful and vibrant. The publishers have once again found a model that at least vaguely looks like the character inside, and there isn't a lot of fuss and muss, just an elegant Regency lady and some lovely nature. I wish more romance covers took this approach.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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