My Fair Lover
In My Fair Lover, family matchmaker Lady Katherine Wilde gets a second chance with her personal one-who-got-away. In this reverse-Pygmalion story, American Brandon Deverill needs Katherine’s help to give him the polish he needs in order to gain his inheritance. Of course, Katherine is also his one-who-got-away, and we are treated to their reunion story. Ms. Jordan’s newest release is chock full of adventure and drama, complete with a hero’s journey and a happily ever after.
Six years prior to the start of our story, Katherine was ready to give her virginity to Brandon. Clearly, this was no small decision, and so when he rose from her bed leaving her intact, Katherine felt somewhat scorned, although this doesn’t really stop her from carrying quite the torch for him. When he turns up on her doorstep after inheriting an English title, in desperate need of a wife in order to fulfil the terms of the bequest but completely lacking in the social graces and connections with which to acquire one, she offers him a bargain. If she helps him land said wife, he has to use the connections he built up in his previous life as a privateer to help her find the shipwreck that killed her parents. A deal is struck and off they go from English shores to the caves of the French coast.
I am usually a complete sucker for takes on My Fair Lady (see also: She’s All That for the non-Broadway folks). When I read that this was a gender-flipped version, I was intrigued and added it to my TBR immediately. Allow me a brief excursion into nerd territory, if you will, to explain why. George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion is a retelling of Ovid’s narrative poem about a man who falls in love with a statue he has created. In the play, Henry Higgins, grand professor of English diction and behavior, meets Eliza Doolittle, a street urchin, selling flowers which she hawks in a thick cockney accent. In an episode of hubris the likes of which only the upper class of England can truly achieve, Henry makes a bet with his friend that he can turn the ‘common guttersnipe’ into a lady worthy of meeting the queen. Of course, as Eliza progresses through her education, it is she who teaches Henry about humanity and grace and love, and emerges the true hero of the story. If you’re unfamiliar with the tale, I do recommend heading to your favorite movie source and settling in for a few hours as Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn tangle wits, words, and wisdom. (Also, her outfit to head to the Ascot Opening Day… *kisses fingers*)
The reason the idea of a gender-flipped Pygmalion is so intriguing is that this story is essentially about socioeconomic class. The gender element is important for the purposes of narrative and the realities of the structure of society during the period in which the book is set, but I wanted to see how the power dynamic of ‘guttersnipe’ lad with ‘upper crust’ lady would work. Sadly, the removal of the story from the ballrooms of England to the caves of France truncates that imaginative path.
Since finishing the book, I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I didn’t fully connect with it. Overall, I enjoyed it and my time spent with these folks and I trust that they’ll truly live happily ever after. While this is my first dip into the series, I’m told that Katherine has been present in the previous installments, and so I’m sure it was rewarding for fans to be able to read her story. However, I was frequently ‘meh’ about the tale.
When thinking about the elements of the Pygmalion myth and Shaw’s interpretation of it which intrigue me the most, it is the ways in which class expectations are played with. By making Brandon American and a pirate, it removed him so far from the tension inherent in the class difference, that there simply wasn’t any. Also, full disclosure, I’m not a huge ‘adventure on the high seas’ gal, and it is entirely possible that is the reason I couldn’t really get into it.
However, I think there are definitely folks out there who will enjoy My Fair Lover. If you’re read the rest of the series or if you’re a fan of pirate-based books, this one might tickle your fancy. I can see the craft of this book; the dialogue sparkles in places, even when I don’t think the chemistry is there. More than most recent books I’ve read, however, this feels like one of those ‘it’s me not the book’ things. I came into this one, perhaps, with expectations that were too specific and I want to acknowledge that. All in all, while this was not my favorite of Ms. Jordan’s works, I am sure it will find fans and please many.