by Kasey Michaels, historical (2009)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77376-3
Kasey Michaels's How To Tame A Lady has a heroine who lies like a professional, behaves in a manner than many people would consider selfish, and generally does everything except to martyr herself. In other words, she has not changed much from her appearance in How To Tempt A Duke.
In truth, she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life or what she wanted out of that life.
She only know what she didn't want.
She didn't want to be desperate, like her mother. Mostly, she didn't want to be heartbroken, like her sister.
Mostly, she wanted to be left to her own devices so that she could someday answer that question as to what she wanted out of life. And in the meantime, if she thought the idea of some harmless flirtation and exercising her charms to be a delicious entertainment, surely that wasn't so terrible?
I couldn't stand Nicole in the previous book because her reckless stupidity caused people to pay dearly for her blunders, and because these people shielded her from the repercussions of her actions, she never had to grow up or learn in that book. There is a fine line between being determined to march to one's own beat and being an outright idiot, and Nicole crossed the line too often in that book.
In this book - which you can read just fine without having read the previous book, by the way - however, Ms Michaels wisely doesn't allow Nicole to cross that line. Nobody pays dearly for Nicole's mistake, and instead, Nicole comes off as a rather immature young lady who is nonetheless honest about her own shortcomings. At any rate, she is not your everyday selfless martyr and not every reader is going to approve of her, so know your poison and act accordingly.
The plot... well, this book doesn't have much of a strong plot. Rather, this is just one of those "Hey, things happen!" stories where events crop up and eventually get resolved without any sense of urgency. We have Nicole and her sister Lydia finally arriving in London as fresh-faced 18-year old debutantes attending their first Season. Nicole is determined to enjoy the sights and parties without falling in love, because she has seen how heartbroken Lydia still is over her first infatuation with a military man, which ended tragically. Meanwhile, our hero Lucas Paine, the Marquess of Basingstoke, will do anything to clear his late father's name and prove that the man was not a traitor, but the price he has to pay for that to happen is to play the rabble-rouser and incite the working class into violent rebellion against the ruling class.
When Lucas falls in love at first sight with Nicole, he at first also believes that it is a good idea to use Nicole as means to divert others from his true purposes in town. However, Nicole soon learns of his mission and naturally she can't resist poking her nose in where it doesn't long. Eventually, as you may predict, the enemy begins using Lucas's infatuation for Nicole as a means to secure his continuous cooperation.
How To Tame A Lady isn't as action-packed as my synopsis may suggest. The plot about inciting working class folks to riot shows up early in the story but it hovers around the place rather aimlessly until much later in the story when it becomes a plot device to get the hero to puff up manfully and try to save the day. Instead, this story is very heavy in conversations - like a traditional Regency, in other words - and this is where your ability to appreciate Nicole plays a significant role in determining your enjoyment of this book. If you cannot stand Nicole, then you will have a tough time finishing this book, I'd suspect. This story is pretty heavily focused around Nicole. She's the one who undergoes the most character development. Lucas is just a standard nice gentleman hero in this book despite his angst about his father.
I'm personally surprised by how much I like Nicole in this book. I detested her in the previous book, after all. Nicole reminds me of the heroine of the author's Indiscreet - both young ladies lie through their teeth and use their charms to get their way, so much so that the heroes often end up tagging after them in a haze of befuddled infatuation. But Nicole exhibits some self-awareness about how her desire to live life to the fullest can be perceived as selfish, and by the last page of the book, she has grown up a bit. Of course, she's still Nicole in many ways, but she has also undergone some soul searching when it comes to her relationships with the people around her.
What I like most about Nicole's character is that Ms Michaels never make it seem that Nicole is morally bankrupt in any way for being who she is. She is who she is, but she's a bit complicated too, that Nicole. This is evident in her relationship with her mother and Lucas. Nicole doesn't want to be like her mother, but as the story progresses, she actually learns to make peace with her own weaknesses as well as her mother's. It's hard to describe in paper how Ms Michaels make it seem to easy to turn a hateful caricature of a human being that is Nicole's mother into a tragic and flawed human being - you have to read it and be amazed. Nicole's understanding of her mother's insecurities plays a big role in her decision to finally admit that she's in love with Lucas, and the whole thing is an unexpectedly poignant read.
The external conflicts, involving the general ill-sentiment of the working class against the ruling class of England in the early 1800s, are actually pretty weak and they serve more as plot devices for the obligatory drama later in the story. The romance between Lucas and Nicole fares better as it is a key element in Nicole's intriguing voyage of self-discovery in this story. Ultimately, it all boils down to how much you like Nicole. I like her and therefore, I adore the many refreshing and even original twists and turns Ms Michaels has done with her character. You may beg to differ, but where's the fun in reading without taking a few risks, eh?
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