Wednesday, 12 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 25: "Lady Derring Takes a Lover" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads:
A mistress. A mountain of debt. A mysterious wreck of a building.

Delilah Swanpool, Countess of Derring, learns the hard way that her husband, "Dear Dull Derring," is a lot more interesting—and perfidious—dead than alive. It's a devil of an inheritance, but in the grand ruins of the one building Derring left her, are the seeds of her liberation. And she vows never again to place herself at the mercy of a man.

But battle-hardened Captain Tristan Hardy is nothing if not merciless. When the charismatic naval hero tracks a notorious smuggler to a London boarding house known as the Rogue's Palace, seducing the beautiful, blue-blooded proprietress to get his man seems like a small sacrifice.

They both believe love is a myth. But a desire beyond reason threatens to destroy the armour around their hearts. Now a shattering decision looms: Will Tristan betray his own code of honor…or choose a love that might be the truest thing he's ever known? 

This is Julie Anne Long's return to historical romances, (to much greater success than some, Lisa Kleypas, I'm looking at you) after a few years of only publishing contemporary ones. While I thought her Hellcat Canyon books were just fine, gradually getting better with each book, it is really almost sad how much better I thought this was.

In this, the beginning of a new series, The Palace of Rogues, Ms. Long introduces us to Delilah Swanpool, whose really rather boring husband has died and left her with nothing but a lot of creditors and a large, empty building near the docks. When visiting her husband's solicitor, she also discovers that her husband had kept a mistress for years, and said woman is also down on her luck. After some consideration, Delilah suggests to the other woman, who goes by the name Mrs. Angelique Breedlove (NOT her actual given name), that they go into business together. They use what meagre funds they have, selling their jewelry and refurbish the building into a boarding house, ignoring all the warnings of the somewhat dodgy neighbours that the property has a notorious reputation and there is no way they will meet with success.

While it might have been natural for them to hate each other, Delilah and Angelique, helped by Delilah's well-meaning, but rather inept maid, as well as whatever former staff Delilah has been able to persuade to still work for her, set about making their boarding house not only a profitable business, but a cosy place that they and their guests can call home. They make sure to have set rules for what is allowed and expected of their lodgers, such as at least some mandatory socialising every week and communal meals. It's all rather sweet.

Unbeknownst to the two women, "Dear Dull (and now Dead) Derring" was involved in a smuggling operation, and the location they have chosen for their lodging house has such a bad reputation exactly because it was part of the smugglers' chosen hiding places. They suspect nothing untoward when the dashing Captain Hardy comes to stay with them (although he and Delilah are mutually attracted to one another from the moment they lay eyes on each other). Hardy has a sterling reputation, and always "gets his man". He has the trust of the Prince Regent and finds it unlikely that the women running the loftily named "Grand Palace on the Thames" could both have been intimately involved with Derring and not known about his involvement with the smuggling. As he comes to discover through his investigations, they are both innocent, and because he's pretty much fallen madly for Delilah at this point, he's very relieved to discover it.

While the romance is thoroughly satisfying, I think my favourite part of this book were the various female friendships. Delilah frequently despairs over the dimness of her maidservant, but nevertheless keeps the loyal and enthusiastic young woman in her employ as she knows she'll have nowhere else to go if Delilah fires her. Angelique and Delilah are very different women who form an unlikely and very touching friendship over the course of the novel. In so many novels (even romances, sadly) believable and supportive female friendships are lacking. Not so here.

If there's a weakness to the book, it's that it's not difficult to discover who the true villains in this book are, for all that our intrepid current and future heroines (Angelique's book is out in the second half of the year) are rather naive as to some of their lodgers' true natures. There's a rather unpleasant incident where Delilah is threatened with rape and rescued by Hardy which I'm not sure it was necessary for Long to include - I think she could have conveyed the danger posed to the women in some other way, but apart from that, the book is really rather delightful and features so much of what makes Julie Anne Long such an entertaining romance writer.

I'm so very happy that she is writing historical novels again, and since she got 11 books out of the inhabitants in and vaguely connected to Pennyroyal Green, I am hoping that she manages to mine this new location for a good few books yet.

Judging a book by its cover: While the dress the cover model is wearing is quite pretty (and period appropriate, what a nice change that makes from the majority of romance covers), the facial expression on the poor lady is awkward in the extreme to me. She doesn't really look as if she's glancing towards a lover, rather than wanting her hand to be released immediately, so she can go and scrub it and remove all traces of the person who just touched it. Still, the marketing department signed off on it, so I might just be overly critical.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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