by Tamara Lejeune, historical (2009)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0130-0
If laughter is the best medicine, Tamara Lejeune is just what the doctor ordered. Okay, that sounds corny and it also makes Ms Lejeune out like some kind of escort, but it's true. The Heiress In His Bed makes me laugh so, so hard on practically every page, I'm sure people nearby must have thought that I am possessed or something. The author's previous book was a huge disappointment, but she has regained her stride to come up with my favorite book from her so far.
Meet Lady Viola Gambol. Spoiled by her half-witted half-brother, Dickon the Duke of Fanshawe, who cares only for food, his dogs, and the hunting season, she is a young lady supremely sure of her beauty, worth, and capabilities. When the MPs of Yorkshires travel to London to take part in the Parliament - and at least one of them is sponsored and bullied into being an MP by her - she writes to them regularly, telling them what to say and how to vote. Naturally, they obey her because they are all cowed by her.
When the story opens, she learns from her brother that their late father had her betrothed to Lord Bamph. It's one of those "everyone knew it so they assumed she knew also and therefore they neglected to inform her" things. Viola is, understandably not amused when she discovers this news only when her bridegroom-to-be summons her to London for her upcoming wedding. If she doesn't marry him, she will lose her inheritance.
She is not a woman without resources, however. When she learns that her brother relies on his stockjobber Mr Devize to handle and increase his finances and that this Dev, as Dickon calls him, isn't above fudging with the books a little, she has a plan. She will get Mr Dev to carry out some creative book keeping so that her future husband will only get his hands on a small portion of her inheritance. To ensure her brother's full cooperation, she only has to gently prod him into realizing that his favorite hunting lodge in Scotland is part of her inheritance.
The duke was almost as fired up as Lord Bamph's proposal. "He's not getting your hunting lodge, I can tell you that! Lyons has the best shooting in all Scotland. I may have to give him my sister, but I'll be damned if I let him shoot your birds, Viola!"
Viola plans to spend her time getting her wedding gown ready - her hobbies including studying idea books and shopping for clothes - but eventually a chance encounter with the daughter of the late vicar has her deciding that she will go to London after all. Posing as this vicar's daughter, she will check out her future husband as well as the in-laws. And so we have a supremely confident woman who has never left Yorkshire visiting London for the first time. Mayhem ensues as our heroine, a naïve and sheltered country girl at heart, makes her London debut in a brothel.
Not only does she nearly end up being auctioned off in that brothel without realizing it, she also tangles with bitchy society matrons and emerges the victor, collects admirers (not all of them pleasant) like nobody's business, and gets into all kinds of nonsense meddling with our hero Julian Devize's family affairs. More than one secondary character here remark that Viola takes no prisoners - she's going to run London's social scene if given the opportunity and heaven helps the man who marries her because she's going to make sure that he will rule England within ten years. I love this woman.
Viola is a lot like those heroines in movies like Clueless and Legally Blonde, where she is often ditsy and shallow, but at the same time she is capable of surprising people with her intelligence. Of course, she is also spoiled, bossy, unafraid of what people think of her, and when she sees what she wants, she reaches out and grabs it. This includes poor Julian. She is, after all, the daughter of a Duke. I tell you, she's amazing. Viola already has not only the honeymoon but also Julian's career all planned out before they have even walked down the aisle.
This story is very farcical. If you have read the author's previous books, you will know what to expect here. The story keeps getting more and more outlandish as the comedy of errors keeps piling on, but I can't complain because I'm too busy laughing. The secondary characters are a riot. Dickon is a doting brother who, unfortunately, takes everything literally, often with very hilarious results. There are also an alcoholic noblewoman, naughty children who up to no good, a conniving duchess who wants Viola to marry her son, and a scheming governess. They all come together to create a bawdy and riotous comedy to remember.
The romance is somewhat weak because Viola and Julian are two very immature brats who keep behaving very foolishly around each other. Oh, their romance is funny to follow, but I never have a good idea of why these two would fall in love. They meet, they are attracted to each other, and they want to get married - that's all there is to their story arc. If they haven't done stupid things, jumped to conclusions, and argued dramatically, they would have been married by page 100. Fortunately, there is no shortage of oh-too-funny silly tomfoolery keeping them apart. Also, Julian is almost a non-entity here because his personality is completely overshadowed by Viola's. But since I adore Viola to bits, I'm not too unhappy with this.
Oh, but I have to warn you of two things. One, you really shouldn't expect too much historical accuracy here. Two, Ms Lejeune has a really bad habit of muddling up the points of view of her characters. I'm too busy laughing so I'm more than happy to overlook these flaws in this instance, but other readers may beg to differ.
The Heiress In His Bed is one of the absolutely top-class, first grade, and fabulously hilarious historical romantic comedies I've read in a long time. The fact that the characters are not the usual clichés typical of historical romances only adds to how awesome this book is. Not to mention, I just adore Viola, easily one of my favorite heroines ever. If you are feeling blue, take some quiet time out for yourself and start reading this book. It may not have the strongest plot or romance, but it could very well make you laugh so hard that the world ends up being a much happier place.
This book at Amazon.com
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