Sapphires Are an Earl's Best Friend
The writing is pretty good in this latest in a trio by Shana Galen, but the spy masquerading as a courtesan trope is so overdone that I never could believe in this story. As a reader, if I cannot buy in to a story then I spend the vast majority of my time picking apart the unbelievable aspects and not enough time enjoying the book.
Lily Lawson is one of a trio of courtesans dubbed The Three Diamonds and goes individually by the title the “Countess of Charm.” She plays the part of a courtesan in public, but in reality is a spy for the British Crown. Her next conquest is the Duke of Ravenscroft, a man who is suspected of treason and of murdering any British spies that had any contact with the head spy of their group named Artemis. There are two problems here. Lily is not really a courtesan and she has had a serious unrequited crush on his son, the Earl of Darlington for years. Darlington, on the other hand barely knows that Lily exists as he was in love with another Diamond, the Duchess of Dalliance. When Darlington learns that his recently widowed father is determined to conquer Lily, she finally enters his line of vision.
Andrew Booth-Payne is the Earl of Darlington and heir to the Duke of Ravenscroft. His mother recently died and Darlington feels her loss a great deal. Instead of being allowed to grieve, he is forced to follow his father to town to prevent scandal on multiple fronts. The Duke has become a libertine and is running through funds at a rapid pace. He is also pursuing one of the Three Diamonds and Darlington is determined to prevent that from happening. As a child, Darlington’s father was cold and distant to his heir and Darlington reveled in his mother’s attention. He feels that Ravenscroft’s actions are a slap in the face to a woman who was worthy of being a duchess. Darlington’s main goal is to honor his mother’s memory. While following his father around, Darlington runs into Lily at a ball and sees she is just as interested in Ravenscroft as Ravenscroft is in her. He is determined to thwart their plans and takes some drastic measures to accomplish his goal. However, once Lily has his attention, she HAS his attention and somewhere along the way he decides he wants her for himself.
The good parts of this book are good. I really, really loved Lily. She is strong, pragmatic and has almost a Gallic sense of fatalism about her. Her duty to the Crown and the living she makes from it have kept her sane when thoughts of her history are deserving of extreme melancholy, but other than her job she really has no life. The mystery of who is killing British agents was done well and it was in the latter part of the book before I figured it out. Ravenscroft is not your stock villain, but was more of a pathetic creature than an evil one. The secondary character of Darlington’s sister Emma was a plus to the story, but I felt she could have been developed a bit more.
But Darlington just got on my last nerve. I grew to like him toward the end of the book, but I never loved him. He did not do enough in my opinion to redeem his reprehensible behavior from the early part of his relationship with Lily and I guess I never quite forgave him. If Lily had not had a crush on Darlington for years, I would have had a hard time believing this practical and self-aware woman would have a thing to do with the hero. We needed a major grovel for redemption and that grovel was not forthcoming. I also hate cheesy titles: The Countess of Charm, The Duchess of Dalliance and The Marchioness of Mystery are the sobriquets given to the Three Diamonds. And I also hate when courtesans are only slightly marginalized from the ton. I know that historically some courtesans did marry into the aristocracy. However, this was rare and a series in which three “courtesans” marry into the aristocracy just stretches credulity.
I have Galen’s If You Give a Rake a Ruby on my wishlist, but after reading this one I will probably take it off. Sapphires Are an Earl’s Best Friend is similar to one hundred other Regency spy romances and there was nothing in this one that made it stand out from the rest.