REVIEW: Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase
Dear Ms. Chase,
I haven't always gushed over your books. Captives of the Night failed to captivate me, and it was a struggle for me to finish The Lion's Daughter. I even admit that although I enjoyed Lord of Scoundrels, I've also puzzled over the fact that so many readers consider it the very best example of writing in the romance genre.
But when I first read Mr. Impossible, and then Miss Wonderful (ideally they should be read in the reverse order), I was thrilled to discover that like a fine champagne, your writing seems to have improved with the passage of time. It still has its effervescence, but its flavor has matured and deepened, I am happy to say.
Lord Perfect is not only the title of the third book in your series about the Carsington brothers, it is also the nickname given to the novel's male protagonist, Benedict Carsington, because he is so very proper and respectable. As the book begins, Benedict, Viscount Rathbourne, has brought his nephew Peregrine to an exhibition of Egyptian antiquities. Though he is not immediately aware of it, he is being more-or-less ogled by Bathsheba Wingate.
The widowed Bathsheba is notorious mostly because she comes from a family of well-born swindlers, but she is nothing like them. With her is her daughter Olivia, who does have a streak of con artist in her. It doesn't take long for Benedict to become as aware of Bathsheba as she is of him. While these two are mesmerized by one another, Peregrine and Olivia begin to argue. The adults intervene to settle the argument, and since Bathsheba knows that to become involved with someone as well-known and respected as Benedict would not only worsen her notoriety but ruin his life as well, she departs quickly.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Olivia has already made Peregrine aware that he is in desperate need of drawing lessons, and that her mother is just the teacher for him. Benedict’s attraction to Bathsheba and his need to see her again make him uncharacteristically reckless, and he engages her as Peregrine's art tutor though he knows that her reputation makes her an inappropriate choice. While Benedict tries to help Bathsheba improve her circumstances and to avoid kissing her senseless, Olivia and Peregrine begin a secret correspondence.
Peregrine's parents write to Benedict that they want to resume his guardianship, and request that Benedict bring the boy to Scotland. Shortly afterward Olivia writes Pergerine of her plan to travel on her own to the estate where she believes her Great-great-grandfather buried his pirate treasure. Peregrine first tries to change her mind, and then reluctantly decides to accompany her and protect her on the way. When Benedict and Bathsheba discover what has occurred, each wants to pursue the children alone. But since neither one will give in, they set out on a journey filled with deep conversations, humorous mishaps, and a powerful attraction that inevitably deepens into something more.
Bathsheba is such a charming character that for me she eclipses even Mirabel in Miss Wonderful and Jessica in Lord of Scoundrels. I enjoyed her wry wit and her pragmatism, her love for her daughter and the clear-eyed realism with which she saw Olivia. I liked that although she was attracted to Benedict, she didn’t sacrifice her reputation for him at the altar of that love too quickly. And I liked that her marriage to her deceased husband had been warm and loving.
Benedict was also not without appeal, though he didn't have quite as much of it for me as Alisdair from Miss Wonderful or Rupert from Mr. Impossible. This may have been due to his being so “perfect.” But I did like the way his obligation to his family and his causes warred with his need to be with Bathsheba.
Peregrine and Olivia were very engaging characters as well: Olivia a charismatic con artist with a good heart and Peregrine a very honorable and proper aristocrat who nonetheless has an adventurous spirit. I enjoyed reading about them so much that like other readers of the book, I hope to someday see them play a central role in a later book or books.
Lord Perfect is composed with attention to the written word, something I appreciate very much. I especially love the way you inflect your writing with a British sound; characters aren't in the rain but in “the wet,” their minds don't go on vacation, but “on holiday.” Oh, if only more authors setting their books in England did this so well!
Though I'm not usually a fan of instant attraction, your descriptions of something that has been written about six ways to Sunday are fresh and original. For example, there is this reaction on Bathsheba's part to first hearing Benedict's “impossibly deep” voice:
The sound shot down to the base of her spine then up again to vibrate against an acutely sensitive place in her neck.
My own neck almost started tingling when I read that line. The dialogue is frequently witty, and Olivia's letters to Peregrine are always amusing. I am also grateful for the way you break into new scenes to shift characters' viewpoints without confusing or jarring me.
Unlike a couple of your earlier books, Lord Perfect struck me as well-paced. I found myself absorbed as I read it, and I only put it down once or twice. It seems to me, therefore, that perhaps the length restrictions which have sapped some authors' books of their power have actually improved your own writing. It now feels tighter and more focused to me.
The first portion of the book, leading up to the journey, was original and wonderful. Once Benedict and Bathsheba went after the children, the book turned into a road romance. Though it was still very enjoyable, it became a bit more predictable. During this part of Lord Perfect, the absence of society, which allowed Benedict and Bathsheba to become romantically involved, also took away some of my awareness of just how much was at stake for them and therefore some of the tension. Only this and the fact that
Although it is not quite perfect, Lord Perfect is very much worth reading, and I happily give it a B+. Here’s hoping you'll continue writing more such delightful books in the future.