A Lady of His Own
If AAR’s 2003 readers’ poll is anything to go by, there are a lot of disgruntled former fans of Stephanie Laurens out there. I am not one of them: I read a Laurens novel about five years ago, didn’t like it at all, and never tried her again. From my point of view as a relatively untried reader of this author’s work, A Lady of His Own is pretty good; a flawed novel but an entertaining one. I’m not in a position to say whether it’s as good – or as bad – as Laurens’ other efforts.
The setting is Cornwall, and that inevitably means that it’s about smuggling. I think it’s a rule that all novels set in historical Cornwall must concern smuggling. Charles St. Austell, Earl of Lostwithiel, is a former spy who has returned to his home to find out who was selling secrets to the French via the established smuggling routes. He also has a personal reason for returning to his remote Cornish home: after wife-hunting in London he’s had enough of the marriage mart. After all the years of deception and espionage, he can’t take the shallowness and deceptiveness of society. He wants to marry, longs for a true meeting of minds with a loving wife, but the girls he met in London can’t hope to understand or match him.
It immediately becomes obvious that the woman Charles needs is his childhood friend and once-lover, the adventurous Lady Penelope Selbourne. Penelope knows Charles, inside and out; her intelligence, determination, and strength of character are equal to his. And they share plenty of sexual attraction, too. Charles quickly comes to see the advantages of a marriage between them, but Penelope is clearly reluctant. Charles finds he must go slowly if he will win this woman.
Charles is a glamorous hero: handsome, honorable, in possession of a shadowy past to lend him a bit of mystery. Penelope is equally glamorous, beautiful, and defiantly independent. They’re not terribly original and both rather larger-than-life, but to my mind that’s not necessarily a problem in an epic-scaled book like this one. The author succeeds in convincing me that Charles and Penny are truly made for one another, and that no other mate would ever satisfy either of them. Their relationship is passionate and contentious, and the dénouement, in which they finally overcome all their differences and reach true understanding, is extremely satisfying.
Surprisingly, the suspense storyline is also satisfying. I’ve become accustomed to suspense subplots that are either predictable or nonsensical, and I’ve gotten really tired of writing reviews in which I criticize this element over and over again. This book contains some real surprises, and at least one plot twist is rather fiendishly clever. Kudos to the author on making me care about the dreaded suspense subplot.
So the three most important elements of this novel – its characters, its romance, and its suspense plot – left me quite pleased. Where’s the problem?
The heroine is outrageously unhistorical. Penelope trots about the countryside, visiting brothels and taverns and things to get information, and no one seems to think it unseemly or dangerous. There’s one section in which Penelope mentally weighs the pros and cons of becoming Charles’s lover. She decides that she will, because after all, she’s a spinster who lives in the country, so her reputation isn’t at all important. Whatever. It never occurs to her that she might get stuck with an unwanted pregnancy, or that having unmarried sex might be a sin. Those things often concern women nowadays; in 1817? When she and Charles do become lovers, they comport themselves with hardly any discretion at all. Also, the conflict between hero and heroine, when you boil it down to its beginnings, is based on a rather silly misunderstanding.
I also think that the book is too long. My version was 425 pages of small type crowded between narrow margins; according to the publisher the final version will be 448 pages. The plot is a good one, but there’s not enough of it to fill up all those pages, and as a result the middle of the book slows down considerably.
Finally, Laurens’ prose style sometimes makes me wince. She apparently adores lots and lots of adjectives and adverbs, so much so that she tends to repeat everything three or four times so that she can get them all in. Some of her sentences are monstrously convoluted, with dependent clauses hanging off one another at all angles. I read an uncorrected proof, so I can only hope that a merciful editor put some of those poor things out of their misery. The love scenes are looooooong, packed with metaphors, totally purple, and some aren’t necessary at all.
Laurens has gotten every possible grade from AAR, from A to F. I can’t tell you how this book will measure up to your favorites. I will say that I think it’s a whole lot better than the one Laurens book I read before (that was Scandal’s Bride, a book I would have given a D for sheer tedium). In any case, A Lady of His Own, with its romantic description of a true meeting of hearts, gets a recommendation from me.