A Dangerous Fancy
When A Dangerous Fancy opens, it is 1890 and Alexander Drake has just retuned from an assignment abroad in the service of the British government. Because Alex is a friend of Prince Edward, one of the first things he does is to go to attend the Prince at their club. Upon walking into the Prince’s private room, the Prince immediately asks: “How can a man enjoy a young lady’s charms without ruining her reputation?”
The young lady the prince is referring to is an American heiress by the name of Lily Carrington who has recently arrived in London to have a season and find a titled husband. The Prince has decided he wants an affair with her, but does not want to irritate his mother by causing another scandal. Unfortunately for Lily, Alex has an answer for the Prince. Quite simply, he suggests that they marry Lily off to a man who will not care if the Prince has an affair with his wife. In this case, that man is Richard Walford, the Duke of Inderby.
While this plan is being put into motion, the inevitable complication crops up. Lily becomes attracted to Alex, and Alex has a crisis of conscience and realizes what a horrible thing he has put into motion for poor Lily. He then comes up with a convoluted plan to rescue her from a loveless marriage and marry her off to a titled lord who will treat her well.
While the above plot seems to have all the right ingredients for a romantic comedy, the ingredients never quite pulled together to make a recognizable dish and the spices were definitely off. Tracy Cozzens is very good at describing the characters. In this case that trait may actually have worked against the story. While I felt I knew Alex and Lily quite well, I could not understand what drew them together.
Lily is new to the social scene, a little unsure of herself and quite conservative. She wants to marry well and make her parents happy. The Prince’s attraction to her made perfect sense. He wanted a sexual liaison and did not care about what was between her ears. Alex on the other hand, was presented as a sophisticated world traveler and, aside from her beauty; it was never clear quite what he saw in a 19-year-old debutante to make him fall in love. Adding to Lily’s general cluelessness is the fact that for much of the novel she is left in the dark regarding the Prince’s interest in her and the reason the duke is wooing her. Because of this, she jumps to a series of rather silly misunderstandings about what is really going on.
While being described as a sophisticated self-made man, Alex is just not the stuff heroes are made of. Not only did he come up with the plan to marry Lily off to a man who would have no interest in her (the duke is homosexual) so that the Prince could then seduce her, once he decides to save her from his own plan, he tries to do so with out incurring any negative repercussions for himself. While I could understand Alex not wanting to lose his hard-won career, his “look out for number one” mindset went on far too long to make him a heroic figure. While it was nice he eventually became attracted to Lily and then felt bad about her fate, it did not make the plot anymore compelling. To be fair, Alex did eventually come through, but by then I had the feeling of too little too late.
Then we have the villain, the Duke of Inderby. With this character the author pulled out every overdone romance cliché about gay villains. It was not bad enough that Lily was to be married to a man who would never be a true husband to her and would expect her to have sex with his friends; the extra step of making the duke really repellant had to be taken. Not only was he gay, he was an opium addict who engaged in some really skanky sex, was cruel to his lovers and planned to have Lily discover his sexuality in the most humiliating fashion possible.
I kept expecting A Dangerous Fancy to get better. As I said earlier, Tracy Cozzens is very good at describing her characters, and while Alex stayed relatively immature, and the duke was a bad stereotype, Lily actually had matured by the end of the book and some of the side characters were also very well done. The setting was interesting and well-described. The plot just never came together enough to make it truly feel real. By the end of the book I was still wondering what had drawn the characters together, especially to the point where Alex would risk his career. Although all the ingredients for a romantic comedy were present, the story never pulled together into a satisfying whole.