Once you’ve read a few Mary Balogh books, you begin to have some feel for what one is like, and this book… just isn’t it. She’s written edgy, challenging stuff, and she’s written angst-heavy emotional stuff, but this lightweight, witty and downright frivolous stuff? Not so much. But boy, did I enjoy it. This is the Balogh book for those who don’t like Balogh books.
Here’s the premise: Giles Fairhaven, Viscount Kincade, is in a spot of bother. On his way to Bath to visit his parents, his overnight stay at an inn is ruined when his purse is stolen. He can’t pay his shot, he can’t pay his debts to the casual gaming opponent of the previous night, and he can’t even pay the serving wench who warmed his bed. And just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, he’s set upon by three ruffians in the inn yard as he’s on the point of leaving. But rescue comes from an improbable quarter – a diminutive lady clad only in a nightgown and wielding a black umbrella, who sees off his assailants, sends him on his way and then pays all his debts. Even the wench.
Since he and the lady both end up in town, it isn’t very long before he discovers who she is and sets about repaying her and hoping to set the whole humiliating episode behind him as soon as possible. But Daisy Morrison isn’t what he expected, and when she asks him to help him launch her younger sister Rose into society, he finds himself unexpectedly agreeing. The Fairhaven family is marshalled to help out, and Giles finds himself gritting his teeth and suffering from more than one of Daisy’s wild starts… and also finds himself oddly attracted to her.
In other hands, this would be a hot mess. Daisy is borderline unbelievable in her sunny insistence that she’s an old spinster who can look after herself, thank you very much. She’s a managing female of the worst kind, and completely oblivious to subtle signals, and trivialities like other people’s feelings. She would be easy to dislike, but I just found her funny. Giles’s intense annoyance with her escapades while also irresistibly drawn to her is a hard act to pull off. But this is Mary Balogh and so it absolutely works. And it’s funny! I love a book which makes me laugh out loud, and this one really does.
There’s one sex scene near the end which isn’t particularly graphic (mainly because Daisy talks all the way through it, which is hysterical), and some fairly graphically described kissing and lusting, but otherwise if you’d told me this was an undiscovered Georgette Heyer, I’d totally believe it. The romance is there, but it’s never spelt out until very close to the end. There are a couple of subsidiary romances that work very well without overwhelming the main couple, and the matter of the stolen purse and the ruffians is resolved rather neatly.
All in all, this is something of a Marmite book, depending on whether you like Daisy or not. I found her cute and amusing, and rarely irritating because although she’s often reckless of her own safety, she’s not stupid. There really are sensible reasons for the things she does, even if perhaps there may be better ways to achieve her objective. OK, there are always better ways. But I can’t remember when I last laughed so much at a book, so I’m giving it the full five stars.