My Lord Jack
There’s a lot to be said for My Lord Jack, a romance that’s well-written and features characters who are far removed from the usual romantic heroes and heroines. I was disappointed when these original and interesting characters started going through the motions of a very routine plot.
Claudia Valemont was the kept mistress of a Parisian nobleman. She escaped from the Revolution in France by selling everything she owned. Hungry and frightened, she makes her way to Scotland, where she hopes to be claimed and protected by her noble father, in spite of her illegitimacy. She meets a snag in Selkirk in the Scottish lowlands, where the mail coach breaks down. There she encounters a tall and very handsome man named Jack, who shows her kindness. Claudia begs Jack to take her to Linlithgow, where she plans to meet her father. But she unwittingly offends Jack, and he refuses.
Desperate, Claudia steals a horse to make her way to Linlithgow herself. But she is caught and sentenced to be hanged – and to her horror, she finds that the handsome Jack is the local executioner. Jack feels partially responsible for Claudia’s crime, so he pleads for her life, and she receives a reduced sentence: she will be Jack’s personal prisoner for six months. The most important part about her sentence – the part that doesn’t seem to sink in for Claudia – is that if she attempts to escape, she will face execution.
Jack is confounded by this sentence. As the hangman and the illegitimate son of an English soldier, he’s a loner in his small village in spite of his good looks and sweet nature. He is also a virgin, and he’s very uncomfortable with the presence of the beautiful, experienced Claudia in his cottage. Claudia, who was raised in Parisian luxury, is initially arrogant towards the Scots villagers and far from pleased that she’s expected to do manual labor during her six months with Jack.
These characters are unique and fresh, and I enjoyed the first half of the book very much. I liked the fact that Jack is proud of his skill as a hangman, which repels Claudia, whose family was a victim of the Terror in France. This is, to say the least, an unusual conflict. Added to the class chasm between the two, it made for some interesting chemistry.
However, I was too frequently annoyed by Claudia. She is an experienced woman who, you would think, has survived enough hardship to give her some idea how to act. Claudia, however, persists in behaving like an unpleasantly spunky member of the Too-Stupid-To-Live Hall of Shame. Most annoyingly, although she is deeply and completely in love with Jack, she refuses to trust him long after the point when she should have. She never tells him, “My father is in Linlithgow, will you help me find him?” Why exactly she feels the need to keep this a secret I never understood. For that matter, why did she go and try to steal the horse in the first place, instead of just waiting until the mail coach was fixed? And why did she insist on escaping from Jack, instead of just waiting out her piddling six months’ imprisonment, even though she knows that she will be sentenced to death for it? Why didn’t she ask questions and find out more about her father before haring off to him? Heck, why didn’t she write her father a letter?
The answer to all these questions is, of course, that if she had, this would have been a very different book. Pity.
Instead of focusing on their differences and their attempts to bridge them, Tarr instead runs Claudia and Jack through a gauntlet of adventures, captivities, and bad guys – I counted three different villains. Claudia falls into the clutches of her wicked father. Jack rescues her. Claudia gets into more trouble. Jack rescues her again, sacrificing his freedom. Then Claudia rescues Jack, sacrificing her freedom. Then…well, there’s more, but I won’t go on. By this time, much of my interest in these characters had dissolved.
My Lord Jack is not a bad book. Jack is an unusual and extremely sympathetic character. Claudia is also unusual, if somewhat less sympathetic. And their relationship is very interesting. But the promising and chemistry-filled first half of the book devolves into a repetitious and silly second half, when these interesting people behave and act not according to character, but simply to advance the plot. While this is not a bad book, it’s easy to imagine how much better it could have been.