The Handbook to Handling His Lordship
I’ve read and enjoyed the other books in this series, so came to this one with reasonably high expectations of enjoyment, and I’m pleased to report that I wasn’t disappointed. I liked the story and the way the author built the romance between two people for whom life hasn’t been particularly easy, despite the fact that one of them – the hero – is now an earl.
Nathaniel Stokes spent ten years serving his country as a spy for Wellington and was supremely good at his job. In fact, he was so good at disguising himself and assuming a myriad of different identities, that he finds it difficult sometimes to remember who he is – to the extent that, when he returns to England upon the inheritance of an earldom he doesn’t want, he maintains the persona he had adopted as a cover for his activities in Europe, that of bookish, bespectacled Nate Stokes, preserver of antiquities.
Our heroine, Emily Portsman, is also living under an assumed identity. She works at the Tantalus Club, a very select gentlemen’s establishment in which all the staff (except the bouncers) are women. Its membership is select as are its employees, all of whom are genteel young ladies who, for one reason or another, need a position and somewhere to live.
When Nate inherited his earldom from a cousin, he was sent home from his life in the army. Now Lord Westfield, he has made himself a name as being a man who “finds things” – lost paintings, jewellery etc. and as someone who is very, very discreet. The Marquis of Ebberling charges him with finding a valuable necklace – along with the young woman who stole it, the family’s former governess, Rachel Newbury, whom Ebberling asserts murdered his wife three years earlier. Intrigued – and sensing that something isn’t quite right – Nate accepts the job and gets a lot more than he bargained for.
In some ways, the relationship that grew between Nate and Emily was refreshingly honest, considering they were both keeping secrets as to their true identities. I suppose what I mean is that they were both attracted to each other and didn’t dance around each other while waiting for someone to make the first move. Yes, they had sex early in the book, and yes, the first time was because they both wanted information (as well as the sex!) and thought that pillow-talk would be an ideal way to try to get some of the answers they wanted. But in the context of the story and who these two people are, it works; and I rather liked the idea that the sex came first (and there’s a fair bit of it!) and the falling in love happened more slowly afterwards. Neither of them is particularly comfortable in their own skin (especially Nate, who has spent ten years being anyone other than himself) and they are both guarded and find it hard to trust others. I thought the story of how they both find themselves as they find love was rather sweet and very well done.
The other relationship in the book I really enjoyed was the one between Nate and his younger brother Lawrence, who is almost a decade Nate’s junior. The brothers have clearly not had much of a relationship before the start of the book, when Laurie is sent down from Oxford for having a girl in his room. Nate wants desperately to ensure that his little brother doesn’t follow in his own footsteps as he wants him to have a normal life; while Laurie wants to know and help his big brother. I loved seeing the two of them become closer and Nate realising that his little brother has grown up into a thoroughly decent young man.
While I enjoyed the book very much, there were a few things about it that didn’t quite gel for me, one of which was the ease with which Nate found Rachel – who is, of course, Emily. That said, his reasoning was quite sound, and I suppose that to have had him searching for months would have made for rather a dull read! Emily’s indecision about involving (or not) her friends from the Tantalus in her problems got a little annoying after awhile, as did her frequent assertions (to herself) that she and Nate could never be together because of their difference in station, even after he’d told her he loved her. There were also a couple of things in the dénouement that made me roll my eyes a little, namely the inclusion of both the Duke of Wellington and the Prince Regent in Nate’s plot to deal with Ebberling and secure Emily’s safety. And while Nate’s solution to the problem of how they could be together and how he could avoid being targeted by some of the unsavoury types he’d dealt with during his tenure as a British spy may have seemed a little far-fetched for a historical romance, I actually thought it seemed a rather sensible course of action.
This is yet another of the books I’ve read recently in which the title bears practically no relation to the book content. I can see (sort of) a very very tenuous link (in that Emily, when first she meets Nate and is determined to pump him for information thinks about the best way to ‘manage’ men), but other than that, it’s completely unrelated. I know how hard it can be to come up with a zingy title, but really… this is the best a major publishing house can do?
Minor quibbles aside, The Handbook to Handling His Lordship was a very well-written romantic adventure story featuring an unusual central couple. It was rather nice to read about a heroine who was neither a virgin nor a courtesan, and an aristocratic hero who didn’t want to be an aristocrat and who wasn’t afraid of his feelings for the heroine, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a dash of suspense with their romance.