No Place for a Lady
No Place for a Lady took me a long time to read – a very, very long time to read. It started off interestingly enough, but after the first three chapters or so I lost interest in these characters, and things did not improve from there.
Marcus Kane, Lord Chadwick, is the heir to an earldom and a spy. He is torn when his former mentor, Lord Penworthy, asks him for help in stopping the assassination of William Wilberforce, whose anti-slavery bill is to be decided in Parliament. Marcus is wary about getting involved – his last adventure ended with the death of his brother – but out of respect for Penworthy and Wilberforce he accepts the duty. He does not easily accept the accomplice Penworthy proposes, however.
Fantine Delarive a.k.a. “Fanny” a.k.a. “Rat” has a number of personas, among them street rat and tavern wench – all the result of being the illegitimate daughter of an actress and a lord. At one time in her life she tried being respectable, but had a hard time fitting in. So now she does what she’s best at, snooping around for Lord Penworthy and her country. Fantine is no more excited about working with Lord Chadwick than he is about working with her. For no matter how attractive he is, she knows he’s still a worthless nob.
This book started off on a high note in the rookeries with Fantine showing off her stuff. She really is in her element there, and the exploration of the seedier side of Regency London was a welcome respite from dance cards and dress fittings and waltzing with the crème de la crème. Unfortunately, halfway through the book, Fantine gets a makeover and starts doing all of these tediously familiar things and, in the process, loses her more interesting facets. She decides she actually wants a come-out and a ton beau. And while there is nothing wrong or unnatural about wanting the softer life, I did have to wonder about her easy transformation into a debutante.
To his credit, Marcus learns to appreciate all of Fantine’s facets and is not turned off by her forcefulness or her capacity. To his debit, it takes him a very long time to not see her as anything but a potential sexual toy. In the interim we must endure the “Will you be my mistress”? conversation and its many variants.
There is a fairly complicated spy plot with numerous Rookery secondary characters each with their own conflicting agendas. The Wilberforce assassination plot is a more interesting spy vehicle than the tired old Napoleon one, but Greyle missed the opportunity to give much information about Wilberforce and his crusade against slavery. Fantine’s adventures in fitting into society and finding the would-be murderer begin to border on the farcical as at one point she reveals some moves that Buffy would envy. I’m not sure that is possible to do what she does in an empire dress, actually.
No Place for a Lady was not poorly written, but somehow the book’s conflict – the yawning gap between Marcus and Fantine’s places in society – never seemed impossible enough. Because of this, I wanted to smack Marcus around for not proposing marriage sooner. With no apparent social censure forthcoming and with his family embracing Fantine so tenderly, his stubborn insistence on sex for privilege seemed callous and uncaring. Also the plight of the underclass was treated less and less seriously as the book continued until it was reduced to comedy in the end. All in all, this story irritated me more than it entertained, so I cannot recommend it.