Lord of Chance
Erica Ridley’s Lord of Chance is the first in a new series from the author entitled Rogues to Riches. Our rogue this time out is one Mister (not Lord – so what’s with the title?) Anthony Fairfax, a charming but rather rackety young man whose appetite for gaming has seen him run up such large debts in London that he has travelled to Scotland in order to try to win enough money to enable him to repay them and return home.
While enjoying a reasonable streak of luck at a small inn not far from the border, Anthony’s eye is repeatedly caught by a young woman whose face is hidden behind a hood, but whose form is pleasing. He nicknames her ‘Lady Fortune’ in his mind, as her presence seems to have helped turn his fortunes. All that changes, however, when she is invited to the table and decides to play. Anthony’s Lady Fortune makes her own luck, it seems, and she cleans him out, winning everything on the table, and in addition, Anthony’s promise to do her bidding for the night ahead. It will come as no surprise when I say that his idea of doing the lady’s bidding all night is rather more lascivious than hers.
Anthony may be a wastrel, but he’s still a gentleman, so when the lady is accosted on their way out of the public room, he steps in and tells her drunken admirer that she is his wife and he should treat her with more respect. The pair then proceed to her room, where Anthony proceeds to make himself useful by ironing and folding her gowns (er… okay) and, in gentlemanly fashion, spends the night on the lumpy sofa.
Charlotte Devon has travelled to Scotland in search of the father she has never met. Her mother is a famous – or infamous – London courtesan, so when Charlotte ruefully reflects that she was ruined before she was even born, she isn’t wrong. Unfortunately, this is an era where the sins of the father were visited upon the children, and her illegitimacy, her mother’s profession and her strong resemblance to her mother all mean that Charlotte has little chance of achieving the sort of respectability she craves.
Judith Devon hinted that Charlotte’s father was a wealthy man, a Scottish Laird, in fact, and Charlotte intends to find him and present herself to him as his daughter in the hope that the kind man her mother recalls will find some space for her in his life, or that at the very least, her being the daughter of a lord will help erase some of the stigma of her birth. To this end, she is wearing a distinctive ruby necklace and pair of earrings that he gave to her mother, in the hope that someone will recognise them and be able to direct her to him.
The flimsiness of this plot point was too much for me to swallow, I’m afraid. I’m supposed to believe that Charlotte is reasonably intelligent, yet she travels all the way from London to Scotland – an extremely difficult and possibly dangerous journey in 1817 – to find a man whose name she doesn’t know, whose place of abode she doesn’t know and whom she has never even seen – hoping that someone will recognise her jewellery?! (The fact that someone actually does recognise it later in the story is by the by – that’s just an overly convenient plot-point and doesn’t excuse such a ridiculous reason for Charlotte being in Scotland in the first place.)
But back to the story. Something both Anthony and Charlotte had failed to take into account is that by announcing they’re man and wife they have become so; this is Scotland and simply by declaring themselves to be married in front of a roomful of people they are, in fact, wed. This creates even more problems, seeing that Anthony is likely to find himself in debtor’s prison unless he can find two thousand pounds with which to pay off his debts (a huge sum) – and because Charlotte is his wife, everything that was hers is now his, and thus can be used to clear part of what he owes.
Anthony is determined not to drag her down with him, however, and thinks that perhaps he can persuade his major creditor – a former friend – to take payment in instalments. To this end, he starts doing odd jobs to earn money, and although the pull to take his earnings to the tables is strong, to his credit, he manages not to do so. There’s one particular passage where Ms. Ridley does an excellent job of showing that Anthony really does have a serious problem, but unfortunately, it just adds to the difficulty of believing, later on, that a man in the grip of such an addiction can turn his back on it and reform practically overnight.
While the overall tone of Lord of Chance is quite light and fluffy, the author does touch on some darker themes. Anthony’s gambling habit is not glossed over (although as I’ve said, he is able to break it too easily) and the situation faced by someone like Charlotte, whose parentage means she is destined to be looked down on through no fault of her own draws the reader’s sympathy. And then there’s Anthony’s family, who live far beyond their means and have no clue how to make the sorts of changes to their lives to enable them to get themselves out of that cycle of being plump in the pocket and then in debt in which they are living.
The author has a talent for writing light-hearted, funny and sometimes innuendo-laden banter, and there’s no question that, but for his gambling habit, Anthony makes a charismatic and rather endearing hero. He’s upbeat, generous and is clearly devoted to his family, no matter that he is pretty much supporting them by whatever means he can and they don’t make it easy for him by being such spendthrifts. Charlotte’s character is less well-defined and I found her fairly dull for the most part, although I did like her pragmatism and could understand her yearning for respectability.
The romance, however, is weak and underdeveloped. I felt like I blinked and missed the part where we saw Anthony and Charlotte actually falling in love; they trade quips and feel attracted to each other, but there is little chemistry between them, and while I’ve rated the book as ‘warm’ in the sensuality stakes, the principal love scene is pretty tame, and honestly, I only used that rating because ‘subtle’ doesn’t quite cover it!
From looking at Amazon and Goodreads, it’s clear that Ms. Ridley has a large following who appreciates her particular brand of frothy, light-hearted historical romance, and I’m sure there are many among them who will enjoy Lord of Chance. I, however, tend to like a little more substance and character/romantic development in the romances I read, both of which are lacking here. That said, the book is well written (in spite of a few typos) and if you’re in the mood for a quick, low-angst story, it might suit your tastes more than it did mine.