A Lady's Guide to Ruin
I’ve had a pretty good run of books this year; a good proportion of A and B grade reads and not too many low Cs and Ds. And among those I’ve been fortunate enough to read two or three début authors whose books I’ve rated above average, so I picked up Kathleen Kimmel’s A Lady’s Guide to Ruin in hopes of finding another one. Unfortunately, however, that proved not to be the case, as the book I read felt as though it was only half finished.
Oh, the story reaches a conclusion and there is an HEA for the hero and heroine, but as for what goes on between the opening scene of the heroine just having escaped from Bedlam (and I’m still speculating on how on earth she managed that because it is never elaborated upon) and the ending… well, there’s a plot and some characters but nothing is fully developed, there is far too much telling and not enough showing, and I came away from it feeling as though I’d read the bare bones of a story that was badly in need of fleshing out.
Joan Price, the aforementioned Bedlam escapee, is on the run from her brother, Moses, and his nasty crony, having stolen some valuable diamonds from them in revenge for their having put her into the asylum in the first place. Just as she is worried they are catching up with her, she is mistaken for someone else, a lady of quality who is going to stay with her distant cousin, Lord Fenbrook, in order to act as his invalid twin-sister’s companion.
In the guise of dippy cousin Daphne, Joan is whisked away to the earl’s townhouse, determined to lie low for a couple of days and then move on. She can’t deny that the prospect of a full belly and a comfortable bed is a very attractive one, or that the handsome young earl is similarly enticing, but she can’t afford to become used to such luxury and needs to get away, fence the diamonds and disappear.
Martin Hargrove, Earl of Fenbrook has inherited a title he doesn’t want because his older brother, Charles, vanished some years previously and has recently been declared officially dead. Martin is an outwardly calm, rather sweet young man but inside, he’s a mass of seething anxiety and anger, and in fact, is so undesirous of being an earl that he is determined to find Charles, whom he does not really believe is dead.
Joan’s plans for a quick getaway are thwarted when she discovers that Elinor Hargrove is about to depart London for Birch Hall, the Fenbrook country estate, for the summer. When Moses arrives suddenly, furious and looking for her, Joan decides it would be a good idea to leave London with the Hargroves and make her escape from the hall instead.
Elinor is a sharp-tongued, quick witted young woman, and she and Joan/Daphne soon strike up a friendship of sorts. But it doesn’t take long for Elinor to realise that Joan isn’t who she says she is, and she worms the truth out of her at the same time as she tells her not to allow her brother to fall in love with her as she doesn’t want his heart broken.
Here’s the first point (of several) at which I had to stop reading and flick back through the book to see if I’d missed something because, other than the odd brief mention of how Martin was intrigued by what he was seeing as the two different sides of “Daphne” (the dippy one and the quick-witted one) and Joan thinking that he’s a bit of alright, there has been nothing to suggest a deeper connection or interest between the pair. And here is also an example (of several) of the telling and not showing I mentioned, as Elinor then proceeds to tell Joan that Martin’s thoughts and feelings “rarely communicate. Logic will occasionally call on passion, but even when both are present at once they cannot come to agreement. Martin thinks and overthinks and then acts according to his heart.” That wasn’t the impression of his character I received at all, because in fact, his character is so bland as to be practically non-existent. Basically, everything we know about Martin is told to us by someone else – usually Elinor, and because she’s his twin, we’re expected to buy that she knows everything about him. This knowledge does not, however, work the other way.
The different threads of the story – the romance, Joan’s nefarious past catching up with her, what became of the real Daphne, and Martin’s search for Charles – are all present at various points in the book, but there is no sense of cohesiveness or integration. There is no exploration of the huge class difference between Martin and Joan; and the characters are barely two-dimensional, with the possible exception of Elinor, who will, I believe, be the heroine of the next book. In fact, we learn more about her backstory than about that of the two principals, between whom there is no romantic spark whatsoever.
Needless to say, Martin eventually discovers the truth about Joan and feels very hurt and betrayed. She leaves and they spend six months (or a year, it’s not clear) apart. This period is covered in about three pages. Then she and Martin meet again and all is quickly forgiven – the end.
To say that A Lady’s Guide to Ruin is an unsatisfying read is an understatement. Its one saving grace is in the sample chapter of the next book at the end, which looks as though it might be worth picking up. I might do that, although I doubt I’ll be anywhere near the front of the queue.