Lady Merry's Dashing Champion
I love romances set during the Restoration – the bawdy court of Charles II, The Plague, The Great London Fire – there is lots of scope for the imagination in this too-rarely used historical period, and Westin has obviously done her research. However, she also has improbable and annoying leads interacting with all that history.
Meriel was left on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral as an infant with nothing to proclaim her origins. Merry grew up in the household of the kindly Sir Edward who saw her intelligence and taught her along with his own children, and she now serves as lady’s maid to his wife. When Sir Edward accepts a position in the King’s government, they all journey to London where the King’s spymaster notices her striking resemblance to a recently discovered traitor to the crown, Lady Warborough, and coerces her to impersonate the Dutch spy. Problem is, Lady Warborough has a husband, Giles, a naval hero and the object of Merry’s love and admiration. Can she convince Giles that she is his wife while keeping him ignorant of her spying activities?
Giles would much rather spend his time at his country estate than wait upon the King and watch as his estranged and adulterous wife flits from man to man in the licentious court. However, she is acting strangely now, somehow different, softer, more approachable, and he is in danger of falling in love with her all over again. But can he trust her?
I enjoyed the court machinations and getting glimpses of the fictional lives of real historical characters like Barbara Villiers and Nell Gwynne, but I found the relationship between Merry and Giles to be beyond my ability to suspend disbelief. There is no journey to love with the pair, for Merry was already in love with Giles before she met him, having fallen for him when she saw the marble bust of him in Sir Edward’s study. And Giles, in a matter of a few days, acknowledges that he is in love with his “wife” from whom he has been estranged for years, who has slept with every man in the court, and purposely aborted his child. With a history like that, there’s no way I believed that he let that all go in a matter of days. Not for a second.
Merry also has a speech mannerism that drove me bats. She talks to herself quite often, in what she believes is a humorous way – and I did not – and each of these murmurings begin with “Hey, well…” As in “Hey, well, I could be a princess bewitched by an evil demon .. Hey, well, there are limits to even a servant girl’s forbearance! … Hey, well, life is unfair, but at least it’s life in a palace. … Hey, well, everything to excess is the motto of this golden age.” There are insipid observations like these on every other page. ACK!
The story did pick up a bit when Merry actually began her mission to pass false information to the Dutch, but that didn’t start until late in the book and it was too little, too late for me. Even the interesting time period and historical characters aren’t enough to make up for the improbable love story of Lady Merry’s Dashing Champion‘s romantic leads. I recommend giving this one a pass.