Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Knaves’ Wager by Loretta Chase

Dear Ms. Chase,

I’m sure you are familiar with Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th century epistolary novel, Les Liaisons dangereuses. It has been adapted to stage and screen, and the cinematic versions include Dangerous Liaisons, Valmont, and Cruel Intentions, among others.

Knaves' Wager by Loretta ChaseIn Les Liaisons dangereuses, the corrupt Vicomte de Valmont wants to seduce the married Madame de Tourvel, widely known for her incorruptible virtue. Valmont is interested in Madame de Tourvel not only because she presents a challenge, but also because he has a wager riding on it. The beautiful Marquise de Merteuil has promised to spend a night with him if he succeeds.

For some reason, I’ve long enjoyed romances whose plots bear a similarity to Les Liaisons dangereuses, as your book Knaves’ Wager does. First published in 1990 as a traditional regency in the Avon line, Knaves’ Wager has been recommended to me by several people, including DA’s Sunita. I’ve been eager to read it for a while, but all the more so recently, thanks to a Twitter conversation. Imagine my surprise and delight when, a few days after that discussion, Knaves’ Wager was released as an ebook.

Knaves’ Wager begins with Lilith Davenant, a 28 year old widow, traveling to London with her niece, Cecily Glenwood. Lilith is described this way:

Lilith Davenant was tall, slim, and strong. Her classical features—a decided jaw, a straight, imperious nose, and high, prominent cheekbones—had been carved firmly and clearly upon cool alabaster. Her eyes were an uncompromising slate blue, their gaze direct, assured, and often, chilly.

Lilith seems as cold as a slab of marble, but she has one soft spot: her nieces. Like her elder and younger sisters, Cecily has thoughtless, unreliable parents, and thus depends on Lilith’s personal and financial assistance to enter the marriage mart.

Unfortunately, Lilith’s once-considerable fortune has dwindled. What her late and feckless husband didn’t gamble away her former man of business invested badly. To add insult to injury, Lilith has recently discovered an old debt of her late husband’s owed to the Marquess of Brandon, a man who gambled and caroused with Lilith’s husband, driving him to his death in the process.

The idea of being indebted to Brandon is loathsome to Lilith, but if she pays back the money her husband owed him, she will not have enough funds left to bring out her four young nieces unless she does the unthinkable and marries again.

Lilith loved her late husband, but he was faithless and debauched throughout their marriage, and ignored her except for brief and unpleasant nighttime visits. Now Lilith dreads physical intimacy and has no desire to ever marry. But marry she must, if she is to pay off her debt to the Marquess of Brandon and finance her nieces’ come-outs.

This conflict comes to a head when Lilith and Cecily encounter a curricle by the side of the road. The curricle’s owner lies beneath it, injured. Lilith has him transported to the nearest inn where she sends for a doctor. The injured man, Mr. Wyndhurst, is arrogant, insolent, and possibly depraved. He is described in Lilith’s POV as “the very model of a bored, dissolute scoundrel.”

Lilith and Wyndhurst exchange some words as she feeds him broth, enough for him to attempt seduction and meet with a cold rebuff. The next morning, Lilith learns that Wyndhurst’s relations came and got him, and he has paid his bill, leaving a cheeky message for her with the innkeeper, one that causes Lilith to smart – but not as much as does the innkeeper’s new information: Mr. Wyndhurst is Julian, Marquess of Brandon, the same man whom Lilith blames for the death of her husband.

Unable to bear the thought of remaining in Julian’s debt, Lilith orders her man of business to pay back the money she owes and accepts an offer of marriage which she had been weighing. Her new fiancé is Sir Thomas Bexley, a widowed, short and balding baronet with diplomatic ambitions.

Sir Thomas no more loves Lilith than she loves him, but he admires her unimpeachable character and believes that marrying her can only serve his political aspirations well. For her part, Lilith plans to be a good fiancée and wife to Sir Thomas. She is grateful that his considerable wealth will allow her to continue bringing out her nieces.

Meanwhile, Julian, Marquess of Brandon, is exhorted by his relatives to travel to London and liberate his cousin Lord Robert from an unfortunate betrothal to a French courtesan, Elise. Julian could care less what happens to Robert, but Derbyshire is boring, and London offers the presence of one Lilith Davenant. Julian wants to amuse himself by seducing Lilith because of an attraction he sensed when he met her, and because he knows she will resist him with all her strength.

In London Julian discovers that Elise is almost as wily as himself. His cousin Robert has written love letters to the French courtesan and she will not easily release them. She plans to use them to sue for breach of promise should Robert back out of his proposal.

Julian threatens to have Elise’s house broken into if she does not hand them over, but Elise, who senses Julian’s desire for Lilith, offers him an alternative: seduce Lilith within eight weeks, and Elise will hand over the letters freely. Fail, and the compromising letters are Elise’s to do with as she sees fit.

A challenge is irresistible to Julian, and a challenge accompanied by a wager is even more piquant. While his cousin Robert slowly falls for Cecily, Julian employs will, charm, and underhanded scheming in a campaign to seduce Lilith. But Lilith has considerable will, charm, and brains of her own. Will Julian’s win his knaves’ wager? Or will it cost him his heart?

I won’t call Knaves’ Wager a redemption story because that’s not exactly what it is. It’s more of a story of two people opening up to one another despite very different aims, discovering the truth of their hearts and minds, and growing in the process.

The electronic version, which I read, has a handful of OCR errors, so on occasion a word can puzzle or amuse. For example a minor character named Hobhouse has his name spelled “Hothouse” at least once.

Readers should also be aware that this book is written in a very different style from your current novels. It’s less humorous, more serious, and wordier as well. Dialogue can be longer and the pacing of the novel is slow and deliberate compared to the pacing of today’s books. Although on occasion I did wish more would happen a touch faster, for the most part I was deeply absorbed.

Julian begins the book with the goal to seduce Lilith, nothing less and nothing more. His initial reasons, at least those he acknowledges to himself, are somewhere between mischievous and villainous. He’s charming enough that it’s hard to dislike him, but it’s also hard to trust him for quite a while. He wants to prove he can bed Lilith, but beneath that, he’s also drawn to her strength, and because he has to work to breach her defenses, she breaches his own in the process.

There’s a lovely journey of self-discovery for Julian as that happens. He is so unused to being in love that he mistakes his emotions until it’s almost too late.

Lilith was an absolutely wonderful character. I have a love for protagonists with a “still waters run deep” quality, and Lilith is such a one. Beneath the cool exterior she presents to the world lies a vulnerable woman who both needs and deserves love, and just as Julian has to mature enough to realize he is capable of loving, Lilith must eventually arrive at the realization that marrying Sir Thomas would be a mistake.

In the interim, her attraction to Julian tortures her; not only does she have no illusions about his intentions toward her, she also feels guilty for betraying Sir Thomas, if only in her heart.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that there are no sex scenes, but although I wanted one, just to see how it would have gone, I never felt the book lacked sexual tension. That was something it had in spades, due to the terrific chemistry between the main characters.

Lilith also read older than her 28 years to me, but again, this didn’t lessen my enjoyment much. There was a level of maturity to the story that is rare and that I greatly welcome.

Knave’s Wager satisfied me to a degree few books do these days. It is easy to see why so many readers love it and why some consider it a genre classic. I am giving it an A- grade.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook Depository

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

33 Comments

  1. Janine
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 14:30:09

    I forgot to add that the ebook is currently priced at $2.99 — a very good deal IMO.

  2. Susan
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 14:40:34

    Great review!

    I’ve been on a bit of a trad Regency kick of late and this was one of the books I read. The quality of the books varied from very good to WTF, with this one being at the top of the leaderboard.

    Thanks for pointing out the Dangerous Liaisons similarity–totally missed that connection myself. But I DID notice the OCR errors, something that seems to be an issue with these reissues to one degree or another.

  3. Janine
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 14:47:29

    @Susan:

    I think I noticed the Dangerous Liaisons similarity because I had been discussing another book similar to it on Twitter when Knaves’ Wager came up — Edith Layton’s The Duke’s Wager. I love that one too and I hope it gets reissued one of these days so that I can review it here.

    The OCR errors are annoying. I wish more reissues were cleaner.

  4. Dana S
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 14:57:20

    I’m buying this just cause you gave it an A. There hasn’t been an A review here for a long time.

  5. Janine
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 15:00:16

    @Dana S: I think we’ve gotten stingier with the A’s and A-‘s. This one was hard for me to hand out!

    I hope you enjoy it. Keep in mind that it’s very different from Loretta Chase’s newer books and even her old single titles.

  6. Leslie
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 15:12:05

    I love your comment on the pacing of this book – the slower, more deliberate storytelling IS a change from most of the romance out there today and I find it a welcome change. Not that I don’t love love me some quick-witted repartee, but the grace of Chase’s pacing in these traditional Regencies is absolutely wonderful. Even the stories with more “action”, like The English Witch or Devil’s Delilah have a lovely feel to them. I find myself just sinking down into her world in these and I am SO glad they are in ebook format now.

  7. Janine
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 17:07:07

    @Leslie: I had that feeling of sinking into her world too, and it’s happened to me with some other older books. Mary Balogh’s A Chance Encounter comes to mind, and Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s Don’t Forget to Smile. Sometimes books can be slow and quiet, yet absorbing. It’s magical when that happens.

    I wouldn’t say I prefer slow pacing generally though. I’ve noticed my attention span isn’t what it used to be, so a lot of times I prefer tight books. But when a book has slow pacing that feels deliberate and thoughtful, like this one, it can be wonderfully relaxing.

    Have you read Knaves’ Wager, Leslie? I haven’t read the other Chase trads yet.

  8. Bronte
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 19:16:57

    I loved this book. I bought it after it came up in the daily deals here on Dear Author. For me Loretta Chase can be hit or miss but this was definitely a hit. It took me back to my early teens when I first cut my teeth on regency romances. I liked the fact it was a bit angsty toward the end. Its hard to get an author that does that well without being over the top.

  9. Loosheesh
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 19:38:47

    @Dana S: Haha, me too =D

    Well, I bought it at the Kobo store so I could get to use their current 40% off code and now the book is not downloading. I’m getting some sort of error message. I hope it sorts itself out by tomorrow without me having to initiate contact with the crapness that is Kobo customer service :(

    @Janine: I want The Duke’s Wager! I saw one particular review of it at Goodreads and decided I must have it. It’s on my ‘waiting to be Kindlized’ list at eReaderIQ but I suspect I’ll soon get tired of waiting and just order a used copy from BetterWorldBooks or some place.

  10. Janine
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 20:04:49

    @Bronte: Glad to hear you enjoyed it. You’re right, it was a nice level of angst without too much melodrama.

    In further thinking about it today, I realized I would have loved a little more Julian backstory.

    @Loosheesh: Hope your Kobo woes go away.

    I’m waiting for TDW to be Kindlized too. It will give me an excuse to reread it and see how it is the second time. The first time reading that book was amazing because I didn’t know who the hero of the book would be. It is really tough to review without giving out spoilers, though.

    What is eReaderIQ?

  11. Loosheesh
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 20:28:11

    @Janine: eReaderIQ (www.ereaderiq.com) is a site where you can (1) monitor price drops on books and (2) track books as they become available as ebooks. It only works for Amazon Kindle books though. You create separate lists for both functions and they send you notifications when there are price drops or a book you’re tracking becomes available as an ebook.

    Excerpts from the site:

    Kindle Price Drop Tracker:
    “We will check Amazon.com’s pricing up to four times daily for each book you enter, and will send you an email if the price ever drops below the amount you have specified.”

    Is That Book On Kindle Yet?:
    “We check Amazon.com daily for each book you enter, and will send you an email if one of your selections is ever published to Kindle. Books stay on your watch list until you remove them.”

    It’s a really neat site and I use it a lot.

  12. Janine
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 20:29:50

    @Loosheesh: Oh, wow, that is awesome. How did I not know about this?

  13. Loosheesh
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 20:34:09

    @Janine: When I just got my Kindle I used to lurk at the Amazon Kindle forum and that’s where I found about it. It’s not good for the wallet though, especially for hoarders like, um, me ;-)

  14. sgl
    Nov 22, 2012 @ 11:31:27

    Enjoyed this one very much. Although at times the characters of Cecily and Robert (who annoyingly was called “Robin” in this weird ebook version I got) were a bit too contemporary, they were funny.

    Not too familiar with the author, but it was evident how much she loves Jane Austen. Certain plot elements were very much inspired by Pride and Prejudice I could tell. (And I suppose the shout out to Mansfield Park was interesting, although a bit jarring.)

    I took a look at the author’s website and didn’t find this book listed among those in the bibliography. Did I miss this or can someone tell me why? And if I enjoyed this , what of her other books would you recommend?

  15. Janine
    Nov 22, 2012 @ 12:47:56

    @sgl: I read the ebook version too. Robin used to be a nickname for Robert so I didn’t take that to be an OCR error — I think it was just his nickname which was interspersed with his name.

    I guess there were some homages to Pride and Prejudice, but the trad regency subgenre tends to have those, because many of the authors were inspired by Austen and also by Georgette Heyer, who clearly took Austen as inspiration. Lilith and Julian actually reminded me a bit of Heyer characters.

    The ebook just that came out less than two weeks ago, and that may be why it isn’t listed on Chase’s website yet. The most recent paper edition actually is listed. It’s in a 2-in-1 called The Sandalwood Princess and Knaves’ Wager.

    With regard to recommendations, I haven’t read Loretta Chase’s other trads, only her single titles, so anything of hers I recommend will be different from this book. I should add that compared to Chase’s recent works, this book is more serious and less comical. If you want to read some of her more humorous works, I recommend the Carsington series, which are, in order:

    Miss Wonderful
    Mr. Impossible
    Lord Perfect
    Not Quite a Lady
    Last Night’s Scandal

    Mr. Impossible may be the most popular among them. My favorites of the series are probably Lord Perfect and Last Night’s Scandal, but if you decide to skip the other books in the series, I’d say read Lord Perfect first.

    A lot of people’s favorite Chase is Lord of Scoundrels, a book that’s in a different series. It’s not a favorite of mine but it is her most beloved book. So that’s another way to go.

    If you’re looking for a book that’s most similar to Knaves’ Wager, though, I’ll put that question to readers who have read her traditional regencies. Maybe one of them will know.

  16. msaggie
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 03:24:34

    Thanks so much Janine for reviewing Knaves’ Wager which prompted a re-read (I last read it 5 years ago). I am very glad to get back to it with fresh eyes. Cecily reminds me of Olivia in Lord Perfect and Last Night’s Scandal right down to the big blue eyes and scheming, although she is more subdued . I had not thought of the similarity of the plot to Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but of course, we have a HEA for the rake and the virtuous heroine here. I also had a soft spot for Elise, because in the end she brought the main protagonists together. Of the earlier pre-Lord of Scoundrels arc of Loretta Chase books, I would recommend The Devil’s Delilah.

  17. Janine
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 12:20:18

    @msaggie: Elise was a nifty character and I was glad at the way her part of the story ended. Thanks for the Devil’s Delilah rec. I really want to read Chase’s other trads now.

  18. Leslie
    Nov 26, 2012 @ 12:30:40

    @Janine: I have read Knaves Wager and loved it – I read all her books as library books or mass markets when I was (cough) younger. Most of the copies I happened to own fell by the wayside over the years, so getting them for my Nook has been great.
    You are right about some of those traditional Mary Baloghs – also some of the Marion Chesneys – as being other books to sink in to. They seem to hit the right notes more often than not.

  19. willaful
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 14:12:11

    I just read this, suffering through the misery of the Kobo app to do so. (Because those idiots, for some reason, just can’t seem to fix the damn download button! NEVER buying from them again.) I disagree that it’s slow paced and less humorous than other, or at any rate I found it completely absorbing and quite funny.

    I’m also very fond of The Duke’s Wager. Sadly, since Layton died whoever owns the rights to her books may not be inspired to digitize them.

    I wonder if we could convince Loretta Chase to let a few fans proofread her ebooks before they go out? The errors were just fierce in one section.

  20. Loosheesh
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 14:32:43

    @willaful: Arrgh, you too? I contacted them about the problem since Nov 22; after a couple of back-and-forth emails, on Nov 25 they said they “escalated” the problem to their “Tier 2 support team”. Since then, nothing. I tried reading it on my iPad but that Kobo app is, like you said, misery, and I couldn’t get past the first page. I’ll have to give it another go later in the week.

  21. Janine
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 14:54:54

    @willaful: I didn’t find any less absorbing than the best of her most recent books. When I say slower paced, I just meant that it didn’t seem as eventful relative to wordcount as her more recent books. I could be wrong about that, but it stuck me as a quieter book by comparison. That’s not meant as a criticism, since sometimes a quieter book is exactly what I want, and they have gotten harder to find. And while there was humor, I felt that it was more serious and a bit darker overall, because of the premise of a wager over seducing an engaged woman with a virtuous reputation.

    @Loosheesh: I heard from others on Twitter who have had the same issue with Kobo and this book. So maddening.

  22. Sunita
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 15:06:53

    @willaful: Layton has at least two children who are writers (Susie Felber and Adam Felber), and they were both proud of her work, so I’m a little surprised too. They may be too busy, or the rights may be tied up, or maybe they don’t realize how much interest there is in her backlist. But man, I’d buy every one of those early Signet trads. I have quite a few of them in print form, but I’d love to have the ebooks.

  23. Janine
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 15:10:49

    @Sunita: I’m hoping they’re working for it, or waiting for Signet InterMix to approach them.

    ETA: I’ve only read Duke’s Wager of the early ones. Which others do you recommend?

  24. Loosheesh
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 15:11:47

    @Janine: Before willaful commented here I thought I was the only one with the problem. Ah, Kobo. Their site is horrible, their search function is horrible, their customer service is très horrible. No wonder they’re so generous with their coupons …

  25. Janine
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 15:17:53

    @Loosheesh: That is some sucky customer service. I haven’t purchased from them in the past and now I think I won’t.

  26. Sunita
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 15:21:19

    @Janine: I really like The Mysterious Heir and Lord of Dishonor. Then I’d say The Abandoned Bride and Red Jack’s Daughter. The Disdainful Marquis is the sequel to The Duke’s Wager, but it lacks the Wow factor, for me. False Angel is kind of strange, if I remember correctly (it’s been a while).

  27. Janine
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 15:25:16

    @willaful & @Loosheesh: It may be a day late and a dollar (or $2.99) short, but I added a postscript to the review to let readers know about the Kobo issue.

    @Sunita: Thanks! I think I have Lord of Dishonor TBR; I bought it in a 2-in-1 edition with The Duke’s Wager.

  28. Loosheesh
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 18:23:23

    After countless stabbing motions à la stylus, I finally completed the book using Kobo’s iPad app. For the record, I hate all Kobo’s reading apps.

    The book is wonderful and would go on the keeper shelf, if I could actually download it. After more back and forth about apps and devices, Kobo got back to me today and basically said that if I can access the book using their apps then nothing is wrong. Want to download it and read it on another device, or keep a back-up copy? Screw that. Read it in one of their Kobo apps and be happy.

    Best of all, in an amazing burst of proactivity, they refused a refund before I even asked for one. They even quoted their Cancellation Policy. So. Frigging. Impressed.

  29. Janine
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 20:03:00

    @Loosheesh: Argh!!!

  30. Loosheesh
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 03:52:45

    @Janine: Yep, my sentiments exactly.

  31. Loosheesh
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 20:18:22

    Tonight someone on the Kobo discount thread (over at Mobileread) mentioned buying a book at Kobo and being unable to download it, which reminded me of my own issue with Knave’s Wager. I decided to check it out again and, miracles, I was able to download it. Now I can reread in comfort :-)

  32. Janine
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 20:42:48

    @Loosheesh: Yay! Kobo must have gotten enough complaints to get the employees off their duffs and do something about it. Thanks so much for letting me know, too. I deleted the postscript about the Kobo problems from the review.

  33. What Janine was Reading in October, November, and December of 2012
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 10:45:47

    […] Knaves’ Wager by Loretta Chase, A- review here […]

%d bloggers like this: