REVIEW: Book of Love by Erin Satie
Dear Erin Satie:
I’ve been meaning to finish your No Better Angels series – I realized I’ve read three of the four but have neglected to read The Orphan Pearl. I did read book one of the Sweetness and Light series, Bed of Flowers, and gave it an A- (A range grades are rare for me!). When a friend alerted me to this, the second book in the series, I snapped it up.
Book of Love features Cordelia Kelly, the best friend of the heroine Bonny in Bed of Flowers. Cordelia is now living in London, and eking out a living on what used to be a beloved hobby. Cordelia binds and decorates books to order for clients who want the books to give as gifts or for their own collections.
Cordelia left the town she and Bonny grew up in after witnessing her father’s hypocritical attitude towards the scandal involving Bonny and her now-husband in Bed of Flowers. She had looked up to her father, a well-respected judge, who raised her more as a son than a daughter. Having been schooled in philosophy and history rather than deportment and dancing, and taught elevated notions of justice, Cordelia could not accept it when she saw that the principles she was raised to believe in were not actually practiced.
The hero of Book of Love is one of the more unusual ones I’ve read (unusual is good!). The Duke of Stroud is a blond giant of a man. Since childhood Stroud has strove to negate the intimidating effects of his size and his title. He’s done so by deliberately adopting the personality of a fool.
Stroud *loves* practical jokes. I was a bit concerned when this aspect was first introduced, because I hate them, and see them as often being more mean-spirited than the joker will admit. Indeed, several of Stroud’s early “jokes” are meant to harass a woman Stroud dislikes. Stroud’s best friend, Chilly (a lot of the aristocrats in Book of Love have hilariously colorful upper-class-twit nicknames), is in love with one girl but his mother is heavily invested in seeing him married to another. Chilly’s unwelcome match happens to have a mother who is also pushing the pairing, and Stroud takes it upon himself to dissuade her by first hiring a marching band to follow her and her daughter everywhere when they leave the house. The fact that the daughter doesn’t have much say in the matter, and that she is being humiliated by these pranks as well, doesn’t seem to occur to Stroud.
It’s in the commission of the marching-band prank that Stroud encounters Cordelia – she does business with the mother of the girl Chilly loves. Stroud is immediately intrigued by Cordelia, and tries to draw her into his orbit by having an object placed in her apartments and then inviting her to pull off a prank of her own.
Cordelia can’t imagine anything that interests her less. She’s a serious young woman, working hard at growing her business while also getting involved with a local women’s group that is behind proposed legislation giving married women control over the assets they bring to the marriage.
Stroud and Cordelia’s early relationship is very push-pull. He’s attracted to her and just…interested in her as a person. It hurts his feelings that she considers him frivolous, even though he has always tried to appear so. He gets angry – and anger is an uncomfortable emotion for him – when she accuses him of bullying others with his pranks. But it also makes him think. Stroud is fascinated with Cordelia early on and sets about courting her, but has to do so cautiously. Everything in her – her sense of independence and fear of the bonds that matrimony represents, *as well as* her objections to his personality, makes her resistant to him.
Luckily, Cordelia quickly realizes that there’s more to Stroud than meets the eye. His “big, dumb jokester” facade hides a mind that is a lot more nimble than he admits, or even realizes. Stroud was not a good student – his silly upper-class-twit nickname is “Rip”, based on what professors would do to his papers – and his lack of confidence in his intelligence is another reason he leans into his put-on persona. It’s through Cordelia’s observation that it became clear that the prank thing is, in part, a way for Stroud to exercise the mind that everyone assumes he doesn’t have.
(I mean, I still don’t like pranks. Late in the book Stroud pulls a prank on Cordelia that’s just basically making her wear too-tight shoes, which is neither funny nor clever, IMO, and which would piss me off royally if anyone did it to me.)
Cordelia and Stroud match wits in several venues – they have a mutual friend, Olympia (who was introduced in Bed of Flowers), who likes to throw lavish parties, and the two meet, and meet again, at her house. Stroud steals a kiss on the second meeting, which proves revelatory to Cordelia.
The strength of Book of Love is in the marvelous characterization of the two leads. At first glance, Cordelia is a typical historical romance bluestocking. She’s not beautiful, nor does she want to be. She’s serious-minded and concerned with social issues of the day. But Cordelia was surprising in some ways – she is refreshingly practical about what a match with Stroud will mean for her, for one thing. She questions her own beliefs about women’s rights when confronted with two different perspectives (the practical vs. the ideal) on how to proceed in achieving the goals she believes in. She’s very logical but also willing to change her opinion based on facts and evidence.
Stroud is, as I mentioned, unusual – I would almost call him insecure, but in a way that’s both more realistic than the insecurities you usually find in historical romance heroes, and also lovable. He grew up with an abusive father, and he doubts not just his own intellect but his actual worth. He sabotages himself and chooses not even to try because he lacks confidence in his ability to succeed (this is probably one of those traits that is “lovable” in a romance hero but not desirable in a real-life man).
Thus this is my favorite kind of romance, where the hero and heroine bring out the best in each other. This is not a high-conflict, melodramatic story. Both characters have their issues, and there are hints of darkness – I’m hoping their friend Olympia’s disastrous romantic choice is explored in a future book – but at its core, this is the story of two good people finding in each other someone who is unexpectedly perfect for them. My grade for Book of Love is a high A-.