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Laura London

REVIEW:  Gypsy Heiress by Laura London

REVIEW: Gypsy Heiress by Laura London

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Dear Laura London:

One of the most useful concepts I’ve learned from romance readers online is that of reader consent. Gypsy Heiress is in many respects similar to The Bad Baron’s Daughter, a book I loved. Both are old skool historical romances featuring a young heroine who’s essentially alone and unprotected; she becomes entangled with a powerful, ruthless man and is threatened by a dark villain. But what was fun in that story gave me serious unease in this one. The book lost my consent early on, when the heroine is threatened with rape; perhaps it’s because she is so genuinely helpless, so completely outclassed in every single way — alone, injured, poor, despised — and the rapist is so chillingly unconcerned. Although she is technically saved by the hero, it was done in such a way that I was still terrified for her; I found it hard to accept these two men as the hero and secondary hero of a romance.

It’s a shame, because the titular Liza, who discovers unexpectedly that she’s the heiress to a large English estate, is more interesting than the standard London historical heroine. She’s not so much youthfully naive as she is a fish out of water: having grown up with her Gypsy mother’s family, she finds the lifestyle of the Regency England ruling class pretty bizarre. Since I know virtually nothing about Romani culture, I googled details given in the book; it appears that considerable research was done, but important aspects of the culture have been glossed over or left out entirely. In that sense, you could say that it’s a romanticized portrayal. Liza, although a fairly down to earth person, also tends to flowery language in times of emotion, which is linked with her background: “To concede my love seemed as natural and guileless as the new leaf uncurling from its stem. It was a soft emotion, linked forever in the past with the dripping sands of time…” I really couldn’t say whether the book “gets it right,” overall. However, Liza genuinely feels like someone from another culture, one she quite naturally thinks is superior, and she’s realistically sensitive to slights and stereotypes about her heritage:

Betty made her own preparations for bed, clucking at my eccentric ways, and then knelt by her truckle bed and pointedly said her prayers aloud, enunciating each word in a clear, ringing tone, hoping, no doubt, that they would have a good effect on my heathen manners.

The book is gothic in tone, and Liza has her fair share of “had I but known” moments, but she’s not foolishly trusting. Although she falls for Lord Brockhaven, she doesn’t idealize him — in fact she fails to appreciate his protectiveness, thinking he sees her as a tool against the former heirs. Her confused feelings are expressed in dreams in which Brockhaven fluctuates between hero and villain.

You could argue that Brockhaven is an improvement on other London heroines. Of course he treats Liza like a child, but he’s trying to maintain an appropriate guardian/ward relationship, and with good reason. But he lacked the… coolness factor of other heroes, that might make his sins more forgivable. I warmed to him a little more when his sense of humor appeared, and when we learn the truth about his part in the almost-rape, but I still think Liza could have done better. Though I did enjoy their loves scenes (kisses only), especially one in which Liza is masked and incognito.

Most of the secondary characters didn’t help. The careless rapist of the beginning later becomes a concerned friend and appropriate mate, with no apparent change of heart. It’s just that he knows how to treat a “lady.” Other characters are entirely unpleasant, with none of the acerbic charm found in those of The Bad Baron’s Daughter. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the book is Liza’s friendship with another curious and adventurous girl; naughty youthful hijinks ensue.

If I were grading only on my own feelings, I might give this a C-, but I don’t think it was bad, per se. It might work better for readers who enjoy a gothic feel more than I do, or who have less sensitive old skool triggers. C

Sincerely,
Willaful

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REVIEW:  The Bad Baron’s Daughter by Laura London

REVIEW: The Bad Baron’s Daughter by Laura London

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Dear Laura London (Sharon and Tom Curtis):

When it was announced on Twitter that several hard to find Laura London historical titles were going to be reprinted and digitized, including The Windflower, you could probably have heard our squeals from space. I don’t know if any of the books will approach the special magic of The Windflower, but The Bad Baron’s Daughter held its own.

The Bad Baron’s Daughter is a traditional Regency, very much in the style of Georgette Heyer, though not in the obviously derivative way that makes a book a yawner for me. (Having most of Heyer engraved upon your brain can be a curse for a historical romance reader.) The innocent, artless heroine Katie — who makes innocent, artless Merry from The Windflower look like Dorothy Parker — may not play that well for modern readers; it pretty much sums her up that when we discover at one point that she’s accidentally shot herself, my immediate thought was “of course she did.” It’s a tribute to how well the book is written that I found her more entertaining than annoying.

Katie may be a baron’s daughter, but she’s lamentably short on proper upbringing or education. After her father runs away from debt collectors, she’s all alone except for her sort-of-stepbrother Zack, who pragmatically sees no likely future for her other than prostitution. When notable rake Lord Linden is accidentally sucked into saving Katie from an attack, the well meaning but completely unscrupulous Zack sees an opportunity to set Katie up in a good situation:

‘Fifty pounds?’
‘Expensive,’ said Linden, raising his eyebrows slightly.
‘You think so?’ asked Zack. ‘She’s a virgin.’
Linden smiled. ‘Of course. They’re all virgins. Do you think virginity makes a woman more appealing to me? Unthink it, friend.’
‘Very well,’ said Zack cheerfully, ‘she’s not a virgin.’
‘A versatile creature. She loses her virginity in one breath’ said Linden, grinning. ‘I only wish it had been that easy for me to lose mine.’

Lesley Linden is of the class of devastatingly cool heroes, the kind who always has a bon mot on hand and will always win a fight, without even getting his cravat mussed. He has an endearingly human side though, as this conversation show, as well as an irascible temper than makes him uncomfortably violent at times. (If threats of rape are too disturbing for you, better to stay away.) Naturally Katie worships him, but his previously unknown better nature asserts itself and makes him a reluctant, supposedly avuncular protector. (And Katie needs rescue about every other day.) Unlike many books with this set-up though, sexual tension is always simmering below the surface and occasionally breaks out:

He fit her closer to his hard body, savoring her yielding softness, her stunned surrender; his lips moved hungrily over the fragrant curve of her neck, whispering her name over and over as if it were a magic charm that would increase his power over her until, finally, she would be his. He told her that he wanted her, that she shouldn’t be afraid, that he would help her, please her. One of his hands pressed firmly on her back, his facile fingers opening first one and then another of the buttons that bound her inside her dress, and his lips moved up to her ear, murmuring reassurances.

The obvious attraction between them makes the somewhat unsavory situation more palatable, and there are touches of tenderness from Linden that also make the happy ending more probable than it might otherwise seem.

Much of the fun of the story comes from a lively cast of secondary characters. There’s Linden’s forthright grandmother, who advises Katie that Linden admiring her freckles is “just the kind of thing a man will say when he wants up your skirts, my girl. Men would admire your bunions if they thought it’d get them anywhere.” And there’s Linden’s on-again off-again mistress Laurel, who takes charge of Katie for awhile:

‘… isn’t it so that no lady with even a thimbleful of self-respect could allow a gentleman to purchase her anything as intimate as clothing?’

‘Well, Linden pays for mine, and I,’ said Laurel baldly, ‘have plenty of self-respect.’

The book is definitely from Ye Old Skool and some readers won’t be able to get past that to enjoy it. But reading it took me back to when I was first reading Regency romance, relishing the interplay between characters and swooning over witty heroes who are always there when you need them. And I just loved the trip. B+

Sincerely,

Willaful

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