Dear Ms. Chase,
Huzzah! I’m definitely on a roll with you. Last year there was [insert Lady title] and this year it’s “Your Scandalous Ways.” Tired of Regency set books? Tired of English gentleman spies? Well, I would have said so before reading this book. After finishing it…nah, not so much. And a real courtesan heroine? Well, the uncontrived ones are rare as hens teeth and thus I savored this book even more.
I like how the opening scene lets us know what we’re going to get. Some suspense, some humor, some violence, some sex, some ‘oh, the things I do for England.” James Cordier is a spy hero but a vastly cynical and jaded one. I enjoy how he pokes fun at himself and has a realistic grasp on how his superiors view him. He’s useful, he’s intelligent, but he’s ultimately expendable if he gets caught. So…he doesn’t get caught. He does what they want and hopes that soon, he’ll be finished with it all and can return home. I love the sly dig he takes at Regency book conventions when he goes on about what he hopes to go home to: dancing with white dressed virgins at Almacks, riding his pedigreed horses, sitting in his men’s clubs and making silly bets about people on the street. You know, the safe boring things that aristocratic men do in 1820.
Francesca Bonnard would also enjoy the chance to experience the things she loved in her previous life but after the world – or rather the world of the ton – turned on her following her husband’s petition for divorce, she knows it’s impossible. Friends cut her, her father – her only living relative – fled from a swindle he instigated and she was alone in the world. Taking the epitaph her once loved husband screamed at her – whore – she decided if that’s what the world thought her, then that’s what she’d be.
And she’s a damn good one, thank you very much. The most expensive courtesan in Venice, if not all of Italy or Europe. Men vie to claim her favors and drape her with exquisite jewelry. But best of all, she enjoys rubbing her success in her husband’s face via the weekly letters she sends him. He thought she’d fall on her face or die in a gutter but instead she rose like a phoenix. I like that Francesca doesn’t fall into the ‘woe is me’ category. Life slapped her upside the head but she’s come up smelling rosy – or jasminy – and doesn’t regret becoming a courtesan. She’s in control, doesn’t have to chafe under the whims of any men and revels in the freedoms allowed to her. I also like that Francesca’s the real deal and that you don’t pull any punches or resort to the half measures we so often see in romance novels.
This might make me sound shallow but I cheered when Francesca questioned why she should help James and the men trying to prove that her former husband is a traitor. Brava Francesca. What had they, or anyone in England, done for her when she needed help or anyone to stand by her? Sometimes I just get sick of selfless, martyr heroines who can easily put aside the slings and arrows that have been shot at them. So there. Oh, and I loved where she’d hidden the letters!
I think the thing I enjoy the most in the book is that Francesca and James are so well matched. If one wins this encounter then the other will come up trumps the next time. Or the game will be a draw. She drives him crazy, makes him loose control and has him reminding himself not to think with his little head. While James makes Francesca sit up and take notice of him as a person and not just as a silly man she can easily manipulate.
I suppose the fact that it’s been five years and her anger has cooled to some degree, coupled with the fact that she’s finally got the ultimate revenge on her husband accounts for why Francesca capitulates so easily into a second marriage. James has proved the White Knight she was always looking for. I hate to say but I think the happy Care Bear feel of the epilogue where all is forgiven with a few letters and a shiny new title doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. But still, the bulk of the story is wonderful, the characters, even the secondary ones, are compelling and I think you’ve got another winner on your hands. A-