Romances set in the regency period are being written more and more with strong heroines (the only kind of heroine, to my thinking), and Joan Wolf has certainly done her share to promote this change. The heroine in The Gamble is a great example of a strong heroine. Part of the time. I hate to admit it, but there were a few times in this book where I would almost have listed her in the “too stupid to live” group of heroines.
After her father dies leaving her under the thumb of a “fish-mouthed” cousin, Georgiana Newbury finds herself alone with no money to her name, and with the responsibility of caring for a handicapped sister. While sorting through her father’s personal papers, she discovers that her father has made his living as a blackmailer. Although being of high moral standards herself (and delightfully vocal about it), she sees the list of blackmail victims as a way to provide security for herself and her sister. She looks through the list to find someone who would be perfect for providing her with a season, during which time she could find a man to wed. She then disposes of all the offending blackmail material.
Unknown to Georgiana, her chosen victim has died, leaving his title to a nephew – a very handsome young nephew who has seen some seedy things in his lifetime. A rake. A scoundrel. A true tormented hero. When Philip is approached by this young woman, he ungraciously allows himself to be blackmailed, saying that he is using her to irritate his aunt, who will be forced to take Georgiana under her wing. While Philip is sponsoring a season for Georgiana, it soon becomes apparent that her father’s blackmail victims, or at least one of them, is trying to make sure he is never blackmailed again – by attempting to kill her.
This book isn’t really driven by the suspenseful plot: it is one of those “big misunderstanding” romances. Philip thinks his past is way to objectionable for an innocent like Georgiana, and Georgiana thinks that Philip cannot love someone who is a blackmailer. The problem I have with this sort of plot is that all they would have to do is actually talk to each other and viola – problem solved. But instead, we get a book full of pages of two wonderful people making themselves miserable. Georgiana is a Regency heroine at her best (except for the too-stupid-to-live parts). She is confident, honest to a fault, expects to be treated with the esteem her upbringing deserves, and is very intelligent and yet naive at the same time. Philip is – for being so jaded – tender, funny, and generous (but then again, aren’t all rakes that way in romance?). There were many moments that shined for me – especially the interaction between these two. Philip is so tender to Georgiana when they are alone. I liked how Wolf developed Anne, Georgiana’s sister – showing her slowness in little glimpses and not making a huge issue out of it.
There were parts in this book that I didn’t enjoy. For one, the “take the virgin” scene was just plain icky. Maybe I found it to be so because the book was written in the first person – for the most part very well so – but reading someone describe her own deflowering, which Georgiana found unpleasant, didn’t sit right with me, nor did her subsequent sexual experiences. Also, Georgiana put herself into many, very dangerous situations for no real reason. I also thought the addition, in the last half of the book, of her past flame, Frank, was unnecessary, as there was already so much disharmony between Georgiana and Philip. Georgiana never understood that Frank’s presence was upsetting to Philip, even though a few people mentioned it to her, and Philip’s behavior changed very abruptly immediately after Frank’s arrival. I mean, duh.
Joan Wolf is an author that brings Regency England to life, and one of the few that can pull off writing in the first person. I just wish…well, I wish that Georgiana and Philip could have met in different circumstances. But then it would have been a different book.