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REVIEW: The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

Dear Ms. Thomas:

I was intrigued to learn that this Victorian Era romance is a prequel to Private Arrangements, one of my very favorite books, and hoped that the story might coincide with a past incident mentioned in that. My wish was granted!

Luckiest Lady in London Sherry thomas

Recommended by Willaful ( A | BN | K | S | G) * Historical

Louisa Cantwell, the ordinary looking, penniless daughter of a failed fortune-hunter and Lord Wrenworth, an excessively wealthy and handsome lord, have a surprising amount in common. Both have a scientific bent, both are shrewed planners, and both are carefully presenting a charming facade to society. Louisa is doing everything in her power to appear likable and attractive, in hopes of making a decent match; Felix’s motives are a more complex reaction to his loveless upbringing. (Today, I think he might be diagnosed with an attachment disorder.) They’re twin souls, and they know it:

You, sir, are a scoundrel.

As if he’d heard her thought, he glanced her way. Their gazes held, a pair of miscreants recognizing each other in a roomful of upstanding people.

It lasted only a moment, but the sweetness of that secret communion lingered: a joy that was also an ache in her heart. They were two of a kind–she wished she wouldn’t need to always guard herself from him.

There are two other important qualities they share. They’re ferociously attracted to each other — and when that attraction eventually leads to marriage, they’re each determined to have a good time, while carefully guarding their hearts.

The first half of the story is thrillingly tantalizing, as Louisa and Felix engage in a battle of wits imbued with sexual tension. Wanting to make her his mistress, he tells her unpleasant stories about the men she has hopes of marrying; she gains the upper hand by describing, quite truthfully, erotic dreams she has about him. But they’re both far too careful to risk anything beyond illicit conversation:

She set her fingers on the handle of the walking stick, still warm with the heat of his hand.

“Very fine specimen you have here,” she said, a little shocked at both her words and her action.

She was caressing the part of him that he had chosen to extend to her person, her fingertips exploring every nook and cranny of the handle. His gaze, intense and heavy-lidded, traveled from her face to her uninhibited hand and back again.

Since there’s no legitimate plot reason for them to not just go ahead and get married, I was pleased when they did. The story then becomes about their fear of having real feelings for each other, especially for the deeply messed-up Felix.

As in other Thomas books such as Private Arrangements and Not Quite a Husband, sex is used here as kind of a barometer of an unhealthy relationship. It’s fierce, and sometimes ugly, and provides a very effective weapon for a Victorian man to use against a well-schooled Victorian woman. But despite hurt and humiliation, Louisa is a match for Felix even in this arena.

(This is the section of the book that overlaps with part of Private Arrangements. I found it a little disappointing, because what happened sounds so excruciating when Gigi mentions it and we don’t actually see much of her feelings here. But on reflection, it makes sense to keep Gigi’s angst out of this story and focus on Louisa and Felix — and the event does provide a great trigger for drama in their relationship.)

Felix and Louisa aren’t always the most likable people, though Louisa is fairly sympathetic; she’s not ruthless or avaricious, just trying to provide for herself and her family, and to protect herself from the man she quite intelligently distrusts. The emotional journey is largely Felix’s, as he discovers the limits of his charm and learns what it means to actually care for another person.

I very much enjoyed the clever structure of this story, and its effective heart-wrenching. One aspect that disappointed me was the primarily off-stage character of Louisa’s sister Matilda, one of her primary motivations for marrying well. At one point, Louisa thinks, “It would never have occurred to her to disparage another debutante for her own competitive advantage, not even with an epileptic sister as an excuse.” That sums it up pretty well — Louisa’s sister does come across as more an excuse than an actual person, and Louisa thinks of her in a condescending, pitying way that’s grating.

Although I wasn’t as powerfully swept away by this as by some of its predecessors, I can’t be unhappy with elegant writing, a good battle of wits with well-armed opponents, and a juicy jolt of vicarious suffering. B

Sincerely,

Willaful

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. About seven years ago she finally gave in and started reading romance again, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. She loves exquisitely written historical romance, intense m/m, and crazy, over the top categories about equally, and hopes to be buried with her e-readers. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

16 Comments

  1. Ros
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 05:07:04

    One of the things that has increasingly irritated me about Thomas’s books is the flashback/dual timeline storytelling. Does this book have that or does it go from beginning to end in order?

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  2. ohhellsyeah
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 07:17:24

    The woman cannot write without flashbacks, but since she has such a distinct writing style it doesn’t bother me. I haven’t disliked a single one of her books because of the quality of her prose. Still, I would love if she would one day write a novel I loved as much as Not Quite a Husband or Private Arrangements.

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  3. Willaful
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:09:36

    @Ros: I actually don’t remember any flashbacks at all! There’s a prologue about Felix’s childhood and I can’t positively swear there aren’t any flashbacks to it, but if so, they made no impression on me.

    I think Thomas does dual storylines so cleverly, they don’t irritate me or give me flashback whiplash as some do. My usual irritation is with her secondary romances — I know I’m alone here — and there isn’t one of those, either.

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  4. Ros
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:50:26

    @Willaful: Well, that’s good to know. I will maybe give this a go, then.

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  5. Audrey Geddes
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:34:51

    The Luckiest Lady In London sounds like a great read! Thanks for your thorough review :-). I can’t wait to check this one out. You might also enjoy A Thousand Years of Johnny Von by Edith M. Cortese, which is a weaving together of historical love stories with the main character, Estella’s, present day experiences. You can find the author’s website at https://www.trumpetboypress.com/

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  6. Nuha
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 14:20:11

    Spoilers ahoy, though I tried to be vague!

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    Another aspect of this book I really enjoyed was the ever-shifting balance of power in the relationship. It begins to show up early in the novel, when Felix takes himself away from London (and Louisa) just to prove that he can; Louisa resolutely refuses to give him (even more) power in the relaysh by telling him her true feelings. The balance shifts dramatically when Felix finally understands why he’s so turned on by and utterly besotted with Lousia, and spends the rest of his time trying to worm his way into her heart (once he gets over being horrified at himself, the clod–he “became mortal and learned to live with it” indeed). I think the romantic pinnacle of the novel occurs when Felix finally admits he loves her, a moment when he’s at his most vulnerable, pathetic, and ugly, and it feels right that Louisa kicks him in the ribs when he’s so down and that it takes her a while to come to trust him to stick.

    Another great line: “As much as he pleased her in bed and as much as she couldn’t seem to get enough of him, like a racetrack, the bed was a closed venue . All the distances covered, all the thunderous finishes, and still they were in the exact same place as before.” I couldn’t help but smile at it; so many romances seem to think that lots of sex equals emotional development. It doesn’t. It really, really doesn’t.

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  7. Susan
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 15:21:39

    I’m reading this now–made the mistake of starting it this morning and then wanted to call in “sick” to work! I behaved myself, but can’t wait to get back home tonite to finish it. (And then probably re-read it.)

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  8. Kaetrin
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 23:26:08

    I can’t even remember the “event” in Private Arrangements to which this refers but I’ve put this one on my wishlist. I have all three Fitzhugh books still on the TBR. I read only a very few historicals last year, although I’m starting to be more interested in reading in this genre again.

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  9. Willaful
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 23:32:26

    @Kaetrin: *MINOR SPOILER FOR THIS BOOK*

    Gigi mentions trying to find comfort with one of her previous lovers after her horrible experience in Copenhagen, only to find he had married in the interim.

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  10. Kaetrin
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 23:34:00

    @Willaful: Thx Willa – I have a (very) vague memory of it now. :)

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  11. B. Westin
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 13:02:18

    @Audrey Geddes: That looks like a great book, Audrey! Thanks for sharing :-)

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  12. beth
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 00:31:46

    Sherry Thomas is one of my favorite authors–I’m totally burned out on historical romance in general, but I’d cry (no joke) if she quit writing them. Her writing is transcendentally gorgeous, and the emotions she wrings out of her characters are so powerful. Not Quite a Husband is maybe in my top 5 books ever, and while I enjoyed her last trilogy a lot, and His at Night, I wasn’t sure she’d make me feel so keenly again.

    But I was wrong. She did it again with Luckiest Lady. Such a beautiful novel, with two outwardly fine but ultimately inwardly damaged individuals. I believe wholeheartedly in their HEA and that they’ll be stronger together than they were apart.

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  13. Audrey Geddes
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 14:46:41

    @B. Westin: No problem :-). Enjoy!

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  14. Ducky
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 17:15:58

    I love this one. My favorite of hers since “Not Quite A Husband”. One thing I really enjoyed is that they are both equally interesting as characters and pretty well matched in the power dynamics and very well matched as a couple because of the interests and passions they share.

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  15. Natalie
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 16:55:28

    I loved this book, would give it A-. There’s no external conflict or secondary romance here, it’s focused solely on the ever-shifting dynamics of the relationship. It’s the first romance since To Have and to Hold I read where the hero acts on his attraction as some kind of a psychological experiment on himself. But don’t worry, he’s not nearly as bad as Sebastian. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded if the book was longer and fleshed out his dark side a bit more. Aside from his actions towards Louisa (and earlier his mother) he does seem like an Ideal Gentleman rather than a manipulative bastard he thinks he is.

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  16. Willaful’s Best of 2013
    Dec 24, 2013 @ 08:02:41

    […] 10) The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas. My review. […]

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