As Luck Would Have It
by Alissa Johnson, historical (2008)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6155-3


I have things a little backward because I read Alissa Johnson's debut effort As Luck Would Have It after I'd read the follow-up book Tempting Fate. I enjoyed Tempting Fate enough to brave the horrendous traffic of Kuala Lumpur to reach Kinokuniya, the bookstore with the most complete romance section that I know of in the Klang Valley, to grab this book along with a bunch of other titles I know I wouldn't be able to find in the more accessible MPH Bookstore in the Midvalley Megamall.

As Luck Would Have It is, in some ways, a complete 180 from Turning Fate: it has a more preposterous plot. But it also shows the author's apparently effortless way of making me smile and even laugh at the things fools do in the name of love.

Sophie Everton, at 24, decides to visit England to tie up some loose ends with her cousin Lord Loudor (who is running her father's estates in the man's absence) and to enjoy a Season. Unfortunately, on the passage back to London, she is informed by a mysterious gentleman that her cousin has actually run the holdings to the ground. She and her father in danger of losing Whitefield, their home, within the next six months. However, this gentleman can help, if Sophie will help him in return, of course. Lord Loudor has apparently been unwise in his choice of friends because one of them could very well be a spy for the French. Sophie will be compensated financially if she will hang around her cousin, break into a few rooms during parties, that kind of thing. Sophie decides that she has no choice but to agree to this arrangement, since she doesn't want her father and herself to be paupered.

Meanwhile, Alexander Durmant, the Duke of Rockeforte, is asked by the War Office to spy on Lord Loudor for the same reason. And, as suggested by his superior, what better excuse to get close to Lord Loudor than to show interest in Loudor's hoyden cousin who had recently returned to London from India? Alex is at first not sure what he will find in a spinster educated in unorthodox things and allegedly having survived various close shaves all over Asia mostly through luck as well as (to a lesser degree) some skill, but it takes only one look at Sophie to turn him into an utterly besotted and completely obsessed gentleman.

Let's start with the good things first, shall we? Alex is, in a word, fine. He's not a rampaging alpha male with the biggest muscles, glower, and penis in the Northern Hemisphere, which makes him a refreshing change for a hero. He's also arrogant, snobbish, and often elitist in a manner that marks him as a blue-blooded man of his time without overdoing things to the point of exaggeration. At the same time, he's also a pretty mellow guy who used to take advantage of the privileges offered by his lofty position in life and now he's mellowed to a point that he is... well, bored to a degree with his life. The author has set up Alex perfectly to be just that fellow who will find a woman like Sophie fascinating, and when Alex falls, it's a beautiful sight to behold. Oh, he gets jealous and possessive, but since he at the same time treats the heroine as if she's pure gold, the whole thing comes off as adorable instead of creepy.

And how can it not be love when he is so taken with her, even if she's wearing a dress streaked with horse manure, that he has to take her in his arms and kiss her, only gagging when it's way too late to turn back?

As for Sophie, she starts out as this adorable heroine who isn't afraid to admit that she's attracted to Alex. Sophie is a familiar heroine in many ways, but she is also quite unusual in that she shows a spine when she has to make decisions on her own. When she learns that her cousin has been cheating her and her father, she doesn't hesitate to get the servants to toss him out of her house and no, she doesn't feel remorseful about her decision. She can sometimes be canny enough to put two and two together and she can certainly go around breaking into rooms and all without bungling things up.

However, as the story progresses, the author turns Sophie into an increasingly obtuse twit. Sophie pulls a familiar stunt eventually: despite the fact that it should be clear that Alex is besotted with her, she insists that he doesn't love her because he doesn't tell her the three words and therefore does stupid things as a result. Is this because the author needs a way, even a contrived one, to keep the story going?

Still, it's nice to see a pair of hero and heroine who may have issues but don't act as if the world has to stop and pay attention while they dwell endlessly on self pity.

The plot is easily the weakest aspect of this story. The spy thing never really come together well, and when the "twist" is revealed, it requires the player in question to embark on a long-winded tortuous explanation to clear things up. And no, the whole thing still doesn't make sense to me.

As Luck Would Have It features a very enjoyable romance even if it peters out considerably in late quarter of the story into a series of tedious episodes of wrong assumptions and sulky faces. But the romance is mired in a ridiculous plot that challenges the reader to suspend her disbelief to a probably unrealistic degree. If you can overlook the plot, you may just end up being enchanted by the romance. Read a chapter or two at the bookstore first, that would be my recommendation.

Rating: 84


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