His Lessons on Love
His Lessons on Love is just to the right of pure fluff, but it’s the kind of fluff that’s quite enjoyable. The characters are likable, their growth believable, their romance sweet and tender, and their problems understandable. However, the plot contains too many quibbles for me to give it a full-throated DIK, but it’s a solid B and a good time.
Lawrence Grant Talmadge Eddington, Earl of Marsden (generally known as Mars), is stuck in a bit of a quandary. Deb – his mistress – dumps their baby daughter, Dora, on his doorstep – declaring she’s not the maternal type and has no business raising the child. While Dora is definitely Mars’ daughter, he is no more paternal than Deb is maternal, and though he’s enchanted by the baby, has no forward plans for her. His relationship with his mother is practically non-existent, and since he’s an opium addict and regular libertine, he’s going to need some help with baby Dora.
Enter the judgmental and well-ordered Miss Clarissa Taylor (formerly engaged to Ned, who was the hero of the previous book in the series). Clarissa, a poor orphan of unknown origin who was raised by the village vicar and then given to the town’s matrons when the vicar and his wife died, she and Mars have known each other since childhood and have never gotten along. Clarissa knows she is unmarriageable due to her lack of money and breeding, and wants to create enough financial space for herself to allow for her own independence as a spinster. So, when Mars asks her to assist him with the baby she decides to use his helplessness to her advantage.
Mars, Clarissa and Dora make a good team, but Mars wants to challenge Dervil, the man who killed his father, to a duel before he can make a grab for political power in the House of Lords. He’s not about to stop his lifelong quest for vengeance, so in order to make sure Dora doesn’t end up with his mother should the worst happen to him, Mars asks Clarissa if she’ll enter into a marriage of convenience and pretend she’s Dora’s mother. In return, Clarissa gets all of the financial support and security she could ever wish. He agrees not to pressure her to make it a true marriage, she agrees to dress more fashionably, and give off the public impression that she adores him. Can they keep their business arrangement strictly that?
Well, it’s a romance novel, of course there will be complications – and Maxwell provides good ones. His Lessons on Love is a generally charming affair, with two strong equals bumping heads, and Mars comes off as an accurately portrayed libertine, complete with opium addiction and little black book. His addictions are not cured by the love of Dora and Clarissa, but Dora and Clarissa become motivations for Mars to clean himself up and face his responsibilities. But the whole transition between Mars-the-addict and Mars-the-straitlaced-dad happens too quickly, with nary even a time for a hangover.
Clarissa, meanwhile, comes to the marriage a stuffy type who has no room for romantic notions after having her heart shattered. She grows up more than Mars, and manages to round out into a loving and wise but more sensitive woman.
Mars and Clarissa have that classic opposites-attract-and-are-just-what-they-both-need situation – Clarissa needs to learn how to have fun, and Mars needs to stop having so much fun he wakes up in a new place sans cash and his sobriety. They have fun along the way and manage to find tenderness, too. The secondary characters are enjoyable. Gibson, Mars’ butler, immediately became my favorite of them all because he’s so practical and has such a dry sense of humor. Little Dora, naturally, has little personality beyond being sweet and adorable, but she’s a tiny infant and this is forgivable, and the other series heroes pop up briefly. I did wish that Mars’ mother had more nuance to her, but I was willing to tolerate the lack of depth in her characterization since Mars ultimately has to learn to move beyond her and realize not all women are evil, cheating vixens.
His Lessons in Love is light and sprightly, with a few creaky plot points, and well worth a weekend’s reading.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier