A guest review by Erastes
The Randwick family is as noble as any but lives in greatly reduced circumstances. When Loel Woodbine, Duke of Marche and heir to three fortunes, makes an offer for Miss Valeria Randwick’s hand, it seems like a godsend, but the young lady has already promised her heart to another—and a commoner, at that.
Desperate to avoid the marriage, Valeria concocts a wild scheme that depends upon the good graces of her monastery-raised brother, Valentine. When the prospective groom sees through the ruse, he surprises Valentine by agreeing to cooperate. But can Marche and Valentine fool London society while dealing with an accusation of murder and the distracting fascination between them?
This is part of Dreamspinner’s “Timeless Dreams” line which states: A Timeless Dreams title: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.
However, for reasons that I will explain, I don’t think this book – despite having a fanciful premise – needed the disclaimer regarding the gay culture.
I had to get my head in a certain place to read and enjoy this book, and that wasn’t very difficult; I treated it as a comedic historical of the light farce that some of Heyer’s books seem to have. The introduction to the protagonist and his butler at the beginning was particularly well done, and Negus, the butler, “had me at hello” as they say, as he really was an invention of comic genius, a rare enough thing in any genre, let alone gay historicals. He disrespects his master with just enough emphasis, backing off when he realises he’s gone too far, and it was for this very trait he was employed.
The beginning was slightly marred by Negus admitting that he’d lost 50 guineas whilst gambling, and this struck me as far too much–particularly for a servant–as this works out at about £40,000 in today’s money, so I didn’t blame Loel for saying that he’d be hard pressed to find the money in short order! I also found it a little “Clark Kent” as regards Valentine’s dual persona–an acquaintance meets Valentine and Marche while out walking and asks where Valeria is. However she’s given no excuse as to where the Duchess is, and she simply goes away. I think a stronger set up would have been essential for them to continue the masquerade than just parading one and then the other personality, perhaps having Valeria unwell or going to the country.
You might think that I would throw my hands up in horror at the faux marriage device used here, but I thoroughly enjoyed the idea – and the interpretation of it. I don’t know of any aristocratic family who did this, but I do know of one lesbian woman (the name of whom escapes me) who pretended to be a man all her life, and who did actually get away with getting “legally” married to a woman and living as man and wife all her life. So, while it’s hugely improbable, I won’t say it’s impossible.
Plus, it’s a good twist on the Regency, and in particular a gay Regency. It is actually nicely realised after Loel realises his new bride is a man, and the way the wedding night is managed. I was mentally comparing one of those “arranged marriage turns to love” heterosexual Regencies with this, and the way that Valentine behaves with Loel in public which emphasises very neatly the difference in the sexes. It was particularly amusing as to how Loel’s society friends behave with the new Duchess too, again emphasising the differences in how men and women were treated. I’ve long said that in some respects it’s easier to write gay Regency in public because men were far more affectionate towards each other than men are today — they could be alone together, share a bed without society being scandalised. They could ride in carriages alone; they often walked arm in arm or even hand in hand and no-one thought anything of it, whereas you can’t really leave your Regency heroine alone with a single man without impropriety being an issue. This book makes these points very clearly, “Valeria” finds herself alone with one of “her” husband’s friends and scandal ensues – but “Valentine” can be alone and in a state of undress – with Marche and no-one bats an eyelid. I was much appreciative of the subtle way these subtleties were outlined.
The sex is sweet, slightly purple and erotic, but I did find my eyes sliding over the page and moving along to the next plotty part, as they were simply a progression of Valentine’s induction into learning about his own body.
The “Dandies” – several of Marche’s friends are a delight, and great fun to read. They caused me to laugh out loud several times.
There’s a few historical inaccuracies, the worst of which being the very fact that holds much of the plot together, and on examination, simply doesn’t work. Loel’s aunt has left a substantial sum of money to the new Duchess, and she’s accused of murdering the old woman for this motive. Of course this falls down straight away, because, now being married, of course, the Duchess wouldn’t have any money of her own–it would all belong to Loel!
There are other historical issues (such as journeying to France and back, dropped off in England by French Pirates!) which might make a purely historical mind blanch and I think the worst one was this:(bear in mind that this was during the Regency, and therefore AFTER the French Revolution.
In truth, I am a French officer with a letter of marque from the king.
Which king, exactly?
The second half of the book is a lot weaker than the first; the pirate interlude is quite silly – and I simply couldn’t swallow them travelling to France, and there’s a ridiculous amount of coincidence as they meet up with just about everyone they left in England, and I couldn’t work out why they went there in the first place. The ending is rather laboured, it goes on for a good ten pages after the natural ending place, and gets a little dull as all the loose ends are gathered up. I have to say that the second half spoiled some of my enjoyment of the first half.
There’s a lot of good here, but some of it was spoiled for me with silly inaccuracies and a over-drawn out ending. That being said, it’s a good romp with a sparkle all of its own, and proves that even a theme that you think would be impossible to get away with in a gay historical is possible. Despite the problems I had with the book, I’d certainly try Ms Roth again.