REVIEW: The Courtesan’s Secret by Claudia Dain
Dear Ms. Dain:
Women in the Regency period had but few choices in life. A society woman had only one: be married. I see these books as showing how women in society flirted and schemed to achieve the best result possible which was marriage to a well favored man that they actually liked. In the best possible world, the two love each other. I fell in love with Sophia Dalby in The Courtesan’s Daughter and I love her even more after reading The Courtesan’s Secret.
Lady Louisa wants a man, Lord Dutton, and her pearls that he gave to another woman, desperately. So desperately that she will throw herself at the mercy of the mother of a hated rival. Lady Sophia Dalby was a courtesan so successful that she parlayed her beauty and, most particularly, her cleverness into an exalted position within the Ton. Sophia understands more than most women that life in the 1800s as woman is fraught with peril. Women are often used as pawns in the games of men. Louisa has been such a pawn, used for amusement by Lord Dutton who knows of her enormous crush and ignored and maltreated by her father.
Louisa doesn’t realize that everyone in Society realizes that she has been pursuing Lord Dutton in, what some people consider, fast manner. It’s put her in a negative light with some mamas but Louisa can’t see beyond her infatuation for Dutton. Louisa likes the bad boy, or so she thinks, and Dutton certainly fits the bill. Sophia agrees to help Louisa to gain her pearls and the right man. She doesn’t agree that Louisa will gain Dutton. Instead, it is obvious that Sophia believes and sets out to manuever, Lord Henry Blakesley, into marriage with Louisa.
"But, of course, it is always the woman who does the choosing in these matters," Sophia said pleasantly, her dark eyes shining with mirth, cutting him off before he had even begun to lay down the ground rules of their association. "Not that most men realize that, naturally. But you realize that, don’t you, your grace? It is your most enchanting trait, as you must surely know."
He knew nothing of the sort. He was somewhat dimly aware that Sophia had redrawn the lines of their relationship, insulted him, and complimented him all in the same breath. He found himself in the odd position of wanting to agree with her. And that is exactly what he did.
Blakesley saw Louisa one night and fell head over heels. Unfortunately, it was the same night and same party that Louisa fell for Dutton. For the past two years, Blakesley has been Louisa’s friend, waiting for her to wake up and realize that Dutton was a cad and not right for her. The clever part of this book (one of the clever parts) is that you don’t show Dutton to be an outright cad, instead you show Louisa realizing that Blakesley had all the bad boy in him that she would ever need.
This book is not without its flaws. There are literally a dozen characters in this story and I would have appreciated a cast of characters in the front, just for reference. I thought some of the characters could have been trimmed. Sophia tends to outshine the main role players, Louisa and Blakesley. I love watching Sophia interact with people. She’s truly a master manipulator and the suspense is waiting to see how she will effectuate the end result. In some ways, for all of the tantalizing male flesh parading in and out of the pages, the inimitable Sophia holds the reins, a more substantive and decidedly less virtuous Scribe Virgin, arranging the pieces on the playing board to her own satisfaction.
The reasons I like this book is because its sly innuendo and its female positive message. Sophia knows what it is like to be helpless and she’s managed to crawl her way to the top. She’s not going to be a victim and if she can help it, no other females in her circle will be either.
Perhaps this series shouldn’t be read as a romance although the book is about love and passion. But, because of the many characters and the somewhat complex plot line, I make the recommendation with some reservation. I would urge people to read the first chapter or so in the bookstore and see if the language and the dialogue captures the reader.