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REVIEW: A Most Lamentable Comedy by Janet Mullany

A Most Lamentable Comedy by Janet MullanyDear Ms. Mullany,

Having recently read and very much liked your book Improper Relations , I was eager to pick up this other book of yours that I had in my tbr pile. A Most Lamentable Comedy is apparently related to one of your earlier books that I have not yet read, The Rules of Gentility.

We meet Lady Caroline Elmhurst and Nicholas Congrevance in successive scenes (A Most Lamentable Comedy , like Improper Relations, is told in the first person from alternating POVs; it’s a device that I really like) and in somewhat similar circumstances: Caroline is fleeing an inn, via the window, in an attempt to outrun her creditors (who are at that moment literally banging on her door), while Nicholas is being unceremoniously dumped in a canal in Venice by the servants of his latest lover’s outraged husband.

I loved Caroline immediately; her callous attitude towards her maid in the opening scene (“If my hands were not full of my worldly goods, I swear I would box her ears”) endeared her to me completely. She was such a refreshing change from the heroine-who-wants-to-be-best-friends-with-her-maid-and-thus-prove-her-democratic-virtue-to-the-reader. Caroline has been twice-widowed – first by a rich older husband and then by a younger one whom she loved but could not hold onto.

Nicholas and Caroline meet up while traveling to a houseparty at Lord and Lady Otterwell’s; Nicholas is back in England for the first time in years, and has to reintroduce himself to his hosts under his real name, having met them on the continent using one of the various aliases he employed to seduce rich women. (Lady Otterwell was under the impression that he was some sort of spy, which led to what I took to be a sly in-joke about the supposed prevalence of English spies running around France.)

Caroline is at the houseparty because she literally has no where else to go – she is broke, friendless, beset by debt, and if she doesn’t find someone – a husband or a protector – soon, she’ll be forced to go live with her sister, a fate apparently worse than death.

No sooner do the two arrive than complications appear; Caroline runs into her ex-lover and his wife (apparently the hero and heroine of The Rules of Gentility), who are there along with another ex-lover of his, Miss Fanny Gibbons, and the two children he has by each woman. Neither woman (nor the lecherous host’s wife) are fans of Caroline, and she immediately feels the force of feminine hostility directed towards her. Having so many enemies present is not going to help her in her quest to appear respectable enough to catch a wealthy husband.

At the houseparty, the guests are drafted to participate in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Caroline is to play Hermia and Nicholas is her lover Lysander. Having actually just read AMND myself for this first time this past summer, I appreciated the neat way that the plot of the play was intertwined into AMLC, with the multiple sets of lovers (Caroline and Nicholas’ servants also fall in love, and there is a fitful romance between Fanny Gibbons and Otterwell’s secretary) and the play within the larger story (the title of AMLC, of course, comes from the execrable play performed in AMND, The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe).

Nicholas and Caroline each set their sights on the other as potential marks – of course, each is under the extremely mistaken impression that the other has money. Nicholas has stayed away from England for a good long time, and his backstory is left rather mysterious until late in the book. When the story of his past does unfold, it’s rather satisfying and goes a long way to illuminating his character.

Nicholas and Caroline are two of a kind, and I really liked that – instead of the virtuous heroine redeeming the rake hero or the noble hero saving the forlorn heroine, we have two people who both have not behaved entirely honorably in the past; each is at a crossroads and must decide whether to continue on the paths they’ve been on or try something different. Nicholas and Caroline don’t save each other; they save themselves, and in doing so become worthy of each other.

Even before reforming their ways, Nicholas and Caroline show signs of humanity in small ways that feel more sincere and real precisely because they are small – he is overcome with emotion hearing Fanny Gibbons sing one night, and is embarrassed by it; she shows concern for a footman sweating in his wig during a hot afternoon picnic (and she’s embarrassed by it).

Among other delights, I love the consummation scene, which is one of those rare ones that is…less than satisfactory, at least for Caroline. I loved the acknowledgment that attraction does not always lead to instantaneous perfect sex.

The story flagged just a bit for me in the middle; the lightness of the conflict didn’t quite satisfy my need for angst in a romance. Also, the hero makes one of those tiresome “reject her for her own good” moves, which I thought was a trope unworthy of the originality of the book. But the writing and characterization were always enough to hold my attention, along with a generous dose of humor (Ms. Mullany, the fact that you are the only humorous romance author I read regularly does not   lessen the fact that you are damn funny).

My grade for A Most Lamentable Comedy is A-. Now, off to find a copy of The Rules of Gentility!

Best regards,

Jennie

| Book excerpt | Book Depository. | There appears to be no ebook version.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

23 Comments

  1. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 14:12:31

    I predict you’ll love The Rules of Gentility too.

  2. Leslie Carroll
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 15:15:35

    Despite my own deadlines, I could not put this novel down; in fact I even missed my bus stop at one point! It was the wittiest, funniest book I’d read in years.

  3. Niveau
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 17:51:48

    I picked up a copy of The Rules of Gentility the other day at Chapters (it was on sale for $4.99 squee!) and made the mistake of starting it at night. Not a good mood. My lack of sleep made me somewhat grumpy the next day. :)

  4. evie byrne
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 17:58:33

    Yay! I read this book recently, too, and enjoyed it very much. You said it all so well that I have nothing more to add. I just wanted to wave my fangirl flag.;)

  5. Janet Mullany
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 18:09:58

    Jennie, thanks for the lovely review, and thanks everyone for your equally lovely comments.

  6. Lynn
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 19:20:29

    This sounds like a fun read, but I’d like to read Improper Relations first–if I can find it at a decent price that is.

    Still searching for both.

  7. Janet Mullany
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 19:51:34

    Buy LBD books at bookdepository.com — free shipping worldwide. Terrific bookstore.

  8. GrowlyCub
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 20:10:57

    @Janet Mullany: So, the books really aren’t available in the US at all?

  9. Jennie
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 23:10:32

    I think the LBD ones aren’t? I know her first two books were available in the U.S.

  10. Janine
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 23:43:43

    @GrowlyCub: I believe Dedication, The Rules of Gentility and Forbidden Shores (that one was published under the name Jane Lockwood) were all published here in the US, but the other two, A Most Lamentable Comedy and Improper Relations, were not.

    I have read all three of the US-published books and my favorite of these is The Rules of Gentility.

  11. GrowlyCub
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 00:09:13

    @Janine: I received ‘The Rules of Gentility’ as part of the First Look program and posted a review.

    I’ve been on the lookout for Dedication. The Lockwood title sounds a bit too far out for me from the reviews I’ve seen, but it’s on the list anyway.

    It just seems too weird that LBD doesn’t have a US distributor as the market is so much bigger over here.

  12. FD
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 08:09:25

    @GrowlyCub: That is kinda wierd. LBD is a Headline imprint, which is part of the HachetteUK group which also has a significant US presence. They do have a romance line, Forever, which is part of Grand Central Publishing, (they inherited it from the Time Warner media merger) but it doesn’t seem like a big part of their business. Oddly they have not one, but two faith-based imprints, and a third that is “wholesome entertainment, helpful encouragement, and books of traditional values that appeal to readers in America’s heartland.” Reading between the lines, I’m guessing the sidelining of romance is company policy.

  13. Pam Rosenthal
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 08:41:19

    My favorite of the three is the latest, IMPROPER RELATIONS, but there’s plenty to love here as well — I giggled and snorted through it and teared up a little too.

    I think Janet gets better, wiser, and funnier with each book. I adore her flawed but self-knowing characters, and the wit and warmth with which she portrays their desires and delusions (and ours as well).

  14. Janet Mullany
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:27:06

    Hi everyone, thanks for your nice comments.

    Growlycub, you’re right about the lineage of Little Black Dress via Headline via Hachette, but there is no US distribution for LBD books. It’s very much a British line with a number of subgenres all under one roof, to mix the metaphor–chicklit, some paranormal, and me, the lone historical writer. It’s quite unlike any US publishing line.

    Dedication is out of print and occasionally I see it for sale at ludicrous prices that make me wish I’d bought more copies to support me in my dotage. Forbidden Shores is also out of print but it’s around. I’d recommend buying the Avon A version of Rules which has the Top Ten Things… in the back, but they’re up on my website.

    And that’s my inventory, but I have more books coming out this year with US distribution.

  15. Madeleine Conway
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 10:57:54

    Janet Mullany is a complete auto-buy for me, because her characters are funny and flawed and totally believable, her situations plausible even when they stretch the truth a little and her worldbuilding is totally solid. She just gets better and better. I have really enjoyed all her novels, but I have liked Nick and Caroline best of all her characters.

  16. Susan/DC
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 16:55:22

    In hopes Ms. Mullany does not find it boring to hear another fangirl’s comments, I too loved this book. It’s smart and funny and the humor and the actions stem organically from the characters and who they are. I like young love, but it’s such a pleasure to read about grownups who fall deeply in love without all the sturm und drang. The emotions are there, as is the character arc, but unlike adolescent love, I never feel that it is done with one eye on the love object and one eye on an audience, and the emotions are truer for it.

  17. Jennie
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 22:26:39

    And that's my inventory, but I have more books coming out this year with US distribution.

    Yay! That’s awesome to hear.

  18. Kaetrin
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 23:04:40

    I read Improper Relations after reading Jennie’s review. I have A Most Lamentable Comedy in my TBR pile (I believe it’s next!) and Rules of Gentility is on its way to me from The Book Depository.

    Thx so much for identifying this new-to-me author Jennie!

  19. Shel
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 00:29:19

    #3/Niveau, thanks for the Chapters heads up, will have to check it out.

  20. Kaetrin
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 19:16:48

    I just finished it. It was so refreshing to see both leads being flawed but I liked them both from the start and I really enjoyed this book. I was laughing all the way – esp. at the one act play with Congrevance, the Duke and Fanny!! I think Ms. Mullany is my new autobuy author.

    I have a question though. ***possibly mildly spoilerish – concerns secondary characters ****
    *
    *
    *
    Maybe I’m a bit dense, but I didn’t quite understand what the connection to Fanny and Darrowby marrying was to Will being taken away by Linsley. Fanny seemed to be saying that she might not marry Darrowby because Linsley might take Will but I didn’t get how the two things were related. Could someone ‘splain it to me?

    (I did maybe wonder if Fanny thought Linsley would not take Will if she was alone but might if she was married. But if so, it wasn’t clear (to me at least) in the book and if that was what was going on, I didn’t know why Fanny felt that way.)

  21. Janet Mullany
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 11:31:57

    @Kaetrin: Because fathers owned their children then. Mothers didn’t have any say legally.

    Thanks for reading!

    Janet

  22. Kaetrin
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 18:45:47

    @ Janet Mullany
    thx for the reply. I get that Inigo could have taken Will at any time. What I didn’t understand was the connection to Fanny marrying Darrowby. Was it that she thought Inigo would not want Darrowby to raise Will? What did I miss?

    BTW, I am reading Rules of Gentility now. My husband has been looking at me funny because I keep laughing!! I’ve had to force myself to put it down so I don’t gobble it up all at once.

  23. REVIEW: Tell Me More by Janet Mullany - Dear Author
    Aug 01, 2011 @ 07:01:06

    [...] have enjoyed your witty historical romances quite a bit, and liked your historical erotic romance (written as Jane Lockwood) as well, [...]

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