My Lady Gamester
Richard Stanton, the Earl of Stoke, is an ex-Army Captain who recently inherited his gamester father’s title. During the past year he has tried to untangle the estate’s finances and keep his young brother out of the gaming hells. The gambling gene runs rampant in the family and Richard works hard at not succumbing to it. When extracting his brother from a sticky situation at a gambling party, he meets Atalanta James. Her father, the late Viscount James, ruined himself and his family with gambling, and Atalanta, known as the “Goddess of the Cards,” appears to be well along on the same road.
When her father died six years ago after losing all in a card game, Atalanta became responsible for her two younger siblings. In the intervening years she became a card sharp and now, at the age of nineteen and having her first Season, is ready to exact her revenge. She plans to gamble with, and bankrupt, the three men who were in that last card game with her father. The late Earl of Stoke was one of them, and though he had nothing to do with the game, and she and Richard are becoming friends, he remains a target for her revenge.
Richard is confused by the dual personalities of Atalanta and the “Goddess of the Cards.” As they get to know each other outside of the gaming salons, they share their histories and confidences, Richard discussing his experiences in the war for the first time, and feeling a closeness to Atalanta that surprises him with its depth. When he learns that his father acquired all the James’ famed racing stables as payment for a gambling debt, Richard feels guilty, though he had nothing to do with it, and longs to make restitution, but is refused. Atalanta would rather extract payment in a more public manner.
Atalanta was a more difficult character – she is so focused on her revenge to the exclusion of all else that it was hard to warm up to her. She and her siblings are in a bad situation as dependent poor relations, but her insistence on the deification of her father had me losing my patience with her. He may have lost everything in one card game, but it is made clear that he was a long-time gambler and no one forced him to play in that last game. Though something is revealed late in the story that would have caused me to feel more sympathy for Atalanta’s situation and goals had I known of it earlier, her father still bears some responsibility for bankrupting his family. Atalanta’s belief in his complete innocence smacked of naiveté at best, and willful blindness at worst.
There were a couple of outstanding scenes that lifted My Lady Gamester from the ordinary, however briefly. The scene where Atalanta gulls Richard in a card game was wonderfully done. Atalanta played the confused, ditzy chit to perfection and Richard felt sorry for her, even as she was winning hundreds from him. When he later watched her enact the same role with another player, and tumbles to the fact that he has been had, it is wonderfully satisfying to watch his smugness slowly deflate. And later, an intense conversation between the two, when Richard rightly accuses Atalanta of being more interested in her own triumph than in her siblings’ well-being, had me cheering him on.
But these out of the ordinary moments are too few and so only raise my overall grade for My Lady Gamester to be slightly above average.