REVIEW: The Bad Baron’s Daughter by Laura London
Dear Laura London (Sharon and Tom Curtis):
When it was announced on Twitter that several hard to find Laura London historical titles were going to be reprinted and digitized, including The Windflower, you could probably have heard our squeals from space. I don’t know if any of the books will approach the special magic of The Windflower, but The Bad Baron’s Daughter held its own.
The Bad Baron’s Daughter is a traditional Regency, very much in the style of Georgette Heyer, though not in the obviously derivative way that makes a book a yawner for me. (Having most of Heyer engraved upon your brain can be a curse for a historical romance reader.) The innocent, artless heroine Katie — who makes innocent, artless Merry from The Windflower look like Dorothy Parker — may not play that well for modern readers; it pretty much sums her up that when we discover at one point that she’s accidentally shot herself, my immediate thought was “of course she did.” It’s a tribute to how well the book is written that I found her more entertaining than annoying.
Katie may be a baron’s daughter, but she’s lamentably short on proper upbringing or education. After her father runs away from debt collectors, she’s all alone except for her sort-of-stepbrother Zack, who pragmatically sees no likely future for her other than prostitution. When notable rake Lord Linden is accidentally sucked into saving Katie from an attack, the well meaning but completely unscrupulous Zack sees an opportunity to set Katie up in a good situation:
‘Expensive,’ said Linden, raising his eyebrows slightly.
‘You think so?’ asked Zack. ‘She’s a virgin.’
Linden smiled. ‘Of course. They’re all virgins. Do you think virginity makes a woman more appealing to me? Unthink it, friend.’
‘Very well,’ said Zack cheerfully, ‘she’s not a virgin.’
‘A versatile creature. She loses her virginity in one breath’ said Linden, grinning. ‘I only wish it had been that easy for me to lose mine.’
Lesley Linden is of the class of devastatingly cool heroes, the kind who always has a bon mot on hand and will always win a fight, without even getting his cravat mussed. He has an endearingly human side though, as this conversation show, as well as an irascible temper than makes him uncomfortably violent at times. (If threats of rape are too disturbing for you, better to stay away.) Naturally Katie worships him, but his previously unknown better nature asserts itself and makes him a reluctant, supposedly avuncular protector. (And Katie needs rescue about every other day.) Unlike many books with this set-up though, sexual tension is always simmering below the surface and occasionally breaks out:
He fit her closer to his hard body, savoring her yielding softness, her stunned surrender; his lips moved hungrily over the fragrant curve of her neck, whispering her name over and over as if it were a magic charm that would increase his power over her until, finally, she would be his. He told her that he wanted her, that she shouldn’t be afraid, that he would help her, please her. One of his hands pressed firmly on her back, his facile fingers opening first one and then another of the buttons that bound her inside her dress, and his lips moved up to her ear, murmuring reassurances.
The obvious attraction between them makes the somewhat unsavory situation more palatable, and there are touches of tenderness from Linden that also make the happy ending more probable than it might otherwise seem.
Much of the fun of the story comes from a lively cast of secondary characters. There’s Linden’s forthright grandmother, who advises Katie that Linden admiring her freckles is “just the kind of thing a man will say when he wants up your skirts, my girl. Men would admire your bunions if they thought it’d get them anywhere.” And there’s Linden’s on-again off-again mistress Laurel, who takes charge of Katie for awhile:
‘… isn’t it so that no lady with even a thimbleful of self-respect could allow a gentleman to purchase her anything as intimate as clothing?’
‘Well, Linden pays for mine, and I,’ said Laurel baldly, ‘have plenty of self-respect.’
The book is definitely from Ye Old Skool and some readers won’t be able to get past that to enjoy it. But reading it took me back to when I was first reading Regency romance, relishing the interplay between characters and swooning over witty heroes who are always there when you need them. And I just loved the trip. B+
I loved the Laura London regencies. I didn’t realize they were being reissued. One of my favorites is the one where the heroine pretends to be a boy which is not a plot I usually like, but I did that time. I can’t remember the name of it.
Every once in a while, I’ll see a book by Laura Landon and do a double take before realizing it isn’t a new Laura London book.
@MaryK: That exact same thing happens to me.
You might be thinking of this book — the heroine does pretend to be a boy for a short while, though it’s not a big plot point so I didn’t bother to mention it.
P.S. I wasn’t aware of this, but apparently all of London’s books will be reissued, including the incredible Sunshine and Shadow! Many of them are available today — S&S will be out on May 6th.
Happy, happy, joy, joy. I’m sure I read this back in the day, as it sounds vaguely familiar and Sharon/Tom were my favorite romance writers back then, but I didn’t know it was being reissued. Off to buy. Normally I absolutely loathe adorably innocent, virgin, bordering on TSTL heroines yet somehow, theirs just make me sigh happily. I think it’s the utter innocence and artlessness that gets me.
I’m looking forward to reading a heroine who isn’t fully capable and kickass, just for a switch.
Willaful, I’m so glad you read this one and reviewed it and loved it. Because I tried to read “Moonlit Mist” and wanted to stab the heroine within the first chapter. At this point, I’m afraid that “Windflower” might have to just remain a distant happy memory rather than a book I’m going to try and read again.
@Jayne: I… stalled on my attempt at Moonlit Mist. She is pretty unbearable. I’ll have another whack at it later.
@Willaful: When I find myself feeling sorry for the hero who is going to be stuck with this particular heroine, I know it’s time to stop.
@Jayne: Moonlight Mist is, IIRC, their first Regency, and it shows. The heroine is way, way, too young (in years and emotional age), the power imbalance between hero and heroine too much, and the romance is therefore difficult to swallow, IMO. It’s my least favorite of their books.
My favorite of the Laura London Regencies is Love’s A Stage. The heroine is a plucky parson’s daughter, the hero a famous and jaded playwright who nicknames her “Prudence Sweetsteeple,” because she won’t tell him her name when she first meets him. But OMG the dialogue is hilarious, the sexual tension off the charts, and the scenarios the protagonists get into are charmingly ridiculous. And there are so many wonderful Shakespeare allusions.
I also recommend The Testimony. It’s a couple-reunited story, in which the hero, a reporter, has been in jail for contempt (not revealing a source, IIRC). I can’t remember how long is sentence is, but it’s substantial. When he gets out, he comes back home and has to deal with the emotional consequences of his imprisonment, plus the difficulty of getting back into his marriage. It’s really a lovely story, and I found it to be unique in both the conflict and the depth of its treatment of marriage and all of the emotional baggage that couples often have to shift around.
I liked The Bad Baron’s Daughter, but my favorites were A Heart Too Proud and Gypsy Heiress. I love reading old school regencies for their nostalgia factor.
@Amber: Oh, thank you for mentioning A Heart Too Proud, because I’m now thinking that might be the first book, followed by Moonlight Mist. I definitely prefer AHTP to MM.
I haven’t read The Gypsy Heiress in years and since it was one among the first books in the genre I read, I need to go back and see if it holds up to my memory, especially the portrayal of the Romani heroine.
I have fond memories of MM, but reading the criticisms of it here makes me think it wouldn’t be a good idea to re-read it. I don’t want to be disappointed by a heroine who I can’t like and hero I might think is a borderline pedophile.
@Robin/Janet: I don’t remember Gypsy Heiress being offensive but you’re right to be concerned about Romani portrayal. What might be objectionable is that the heroine’s heritage allows her to be easily sexualized and that the culture is romanticized.
@Amber: What might be objectionable is that the heroine’s heritage allows her to be easily sexualized and that the culture is romanticized.
Right. I don’t remember it being overtly that way, but it’s been a long time, so I need to re-read before recommending. What a hardship, lol.
@Robin/Janet: Now both of those you mention sound interesting. Since all the LL books are going to be reissued, hopefully I can try them instead.
Count me among those overjoyed at the news of electronic versions of the books by Sharon and Tom Curtis. I had never read their Regencies and am anxious to check them out. I know that many feel that their best effort was The Windflower but for me it was Sunshine and Shadow. The Testimony is also another favorite. I am one of those that can get past “the old skool” issue and enjoy a book for what is is. So I am preordering my favorites and some new titles and will be thrilled to get rid of my yellowed, beat up, falling apart paper copies. I think older titles often get you away from the generic quality of so many books today, especially historicals, which is my preferred genre.
@Jayne: Almost all of them are now available, it looks like, except for The Windflower and Sunshine and Shadow (two big favorites of mine, as well). I re-read LAS at least once a year, and I’ve got a REALLY old paper copy, so I’m very glad for the digital edition!
Just finished this book and I loved it. It reminded me of a slapstick comedy and I had visions of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn running threw my head. I was a bit worried about how I would react to Katie’ s utter innocence but I ended up finding her charming instead of annoying or too stupid to live. I’m looking forward to reading the Curtis’ other books.
@Tinabelle: I liked Sunshine and Shadow better than The Windflower as well. I need to try more Curtis books, but I disliked the contrast between Merry’s innocence and Devon’s stalking tendencies in The Windflower enough that I’m a little apprehensive about their other books.
Okay, now that I’m reading this, the wrong information has been given. Yes, the heroine is a sweet ditz, however, the hero–brace yourself–is Sir Francis Lymond, starring in a romantic comedy. If you know what I’m saying, I think there’s a very good chance you’ll like this one.
Hmm, maybe that’s why I loved it the first time around. I really can’t remember it very well but I’m pretty sure I read it way back when. Definitely need to reread. Francis Lymond = my very first (and still my favorite) book boyfriend.
How old is Linden?
I’m thinking the book said 28, but of course had the hardened, jaded look of one far older because of All He’d Seen and Done.