Dear Ms. Carter,
I’ll admit it – I was very skeptical at first about the concept of Ridiculous, a book set against the backdrop of very proper Regency-era London. Millicent Boarder, her mother and two sisters, all distant relations of an earl, are forced to serve as unpaid servants for a single male cousin after their father (and husband) dies. When said cousin dies, and under the spectre of being tossed out of yet another house into the streets, Millicent hits upon the perfect solution – she’ll become her male cousin, putting the word out that it was she, Millicent, who died instead, and will ensure that her mother and sisters are able to live well on their reclusive, skinflint cousin’s seemingly large wealth. What could go wrong with this, you might ask. I was certain that I’d end up reading the typical wailing and gnashing of teeth that comes from a Shakespearean twist such as this one – but I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Not only does Millicent flourish as the infamous Mr. North, but she’s able to bring her sisters out in the height of fashion, despite their low station and lack of title. Of course – she has a little help from a handsome Duke and his sister she just so happened to meet on a country road, a pair she just so happened to rescue. The pair are so taken with the pleasantly jester-like Mr. North that a fast friendship quickly forms and they offer their assistance in introducing the family to London. Millicent’s sharp wit and self-effacing ways make her a fast favorite in the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the ton, while her intelligence and humor make her a favorite of the Duke’s. That is, until the rumors start flying.
On one hand, I truly was enamored with the fresh look at Regency London through the eyes of a woman who was posing as a man. Quite a bit was made about the fact Millicent could move much more freely about the city and among society than she could as a female. There were many more freedoms – but also a few pitfalls. For example, how could she explain her bound breasts to a tailor who would be fitting her for men’s clothes? I was utterly fascinated by the friendship between Millicent/North and the Duke – simply because many historical romances don’t focus all that much on the hero and his development outside of the romantic entanglement.
On the other hand, I found some of the characters a little too much to take – they were cloying. Millicent’s mother, Mrs. Boarder, is a good example. There were several times I wanted to shove her in a very small box, close the lid, and toss the whole thing into the Thames. The Dowager Duchess was another character who seemed a little too over the top, almost a caricature of evil rather than a powerful character in her own right. And while the cross-dressing Millicent was a novelty I’d not seen before, it felt a little too artificial at times – as if she adjusted to her new role way too quickly and with many fewer problems than one might have expected. I know that sounds a little contradictory, but there were times when the story could have been bolstered by a touch more realism. We didn’t really get to see inside Millicent’s mind to understand what she was thinking and going through with regards to her transformation. There were no questions of losing her femininity, no moral dilemmas regarding her becoming Mr. North, no real second thoughts at all. While she’s, admittedly, a very strong female character, I was a little disappointed in her when she finally did shed the male attire, and the reason for her throwing it off.
On the whole, I found the book to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. The dialog sparkled with wit, and I absolutely adored some of the scrapes Millicent found herself in. I mean, comparing the language of the fan to the language of a cat’s tail? That’s absolutely brilliant and it made for several laugh out loud moments. This is the type of book you grab along with a cup of tea or glass of wine on a cold night, when you can cuddle in and simply let yourself be carried away to another time and another place. Thank you for giving us something a little bit new and different! B-