Love in a Bottle
I enjoyed Zoe Archer’s first book, Lady X’s Cowboy. The hero and heroine of that book were not your usual couple – she was a Victorian peeress/entrepreneur and he was an American cowboy. Archer’s latest book, Love in a Bottle features another odd couple – she is a botanist and he is a mountebank.
Ian Blackpool has traveled the world observing the oddities and vagaries of mankind. Now back in England, he makes his living going from town to town peddling an elixir of love. Ian is quite the showman and his elixir is popular. Of course it doesn’t work, but Ian wishes it did. He is convinced that he is incapable of love – real love. Although he has had his share of relationships and was once engaged, he has never felt true love for any woman, and he would like to.
Sophie Andrews is a botanist. She is not content to act like a lady and snip roses or design topiaries. No, Sophie wants to get into the dirt and really study plants. Her special interest is symbiosis – the interaction between two plants where they both benefit from their proximity. Because of her parent’s disapproval of her study of plants, Sophie spends a lot of time with her uncle Alforth, who supports her interest in botany. One day while Alforth is at a tavern, Sophie meets Ian while she is examining an interesting fly agaric mushroom. She is pleasantly surprised when Ian doesn’t slight her for studying plants and he even praises her botanical drawings. But she is crushed when she sees Ian hawking a love potion outside the tavern and confronts him. They both drink the potion and they both feel some effects from it, but don’t tell anyone.
On the way home, Ian rescues Sophie and Alforth from Dark Dan McGannon, a highwayman. When they get to Sophie’s home, her parents take away all her books and materials and refuse to allow her to study plants. They insist that she accept the courtship of Lord Vickerton (whom she despises), and at first Sophie’s life looks bleak. However, Uncle Alforth allows her to come to his house under the pretense of designing his gardens, and while there she meets again with Ian, who wants her to use her knowledge to turn his elixir into a real one.
The book’s plot is less than smooth, and there were times I was rolling my eyes and saying, “Oh come on now”! However Ian and Sophie are an engaging and charming hero and heroine. I am a pushover for scientist heroines and outsider characters in general and Sophie is an utter delight. She is a true scientist who burns to discover all she can about the plant kingdom. Because of the constraints put upon woman during this time, Sophie has concealed her sex in a lengthy correspondence with a French scientist who is also interested in symbiosis, and she has had to fight her parent’s disapproval for years.
Ian is not quite as engaging a character as Sophie and his insistence that he cannot love goes on to the point of exasperation, but he still has lots of charm and I melted at how he supported Sophie from the beginning. Uncle Alforth is a sweet supporting character and Lord Vickerton is a properly slimy villain. Love in a Bottle is very slight, breaks no new ground but because of the charming characters, I rate it as a better than average light romance.