March 2006, European Historical Romance (1820s England)
Berkley, $7.99, 280 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425208885 Part of a series
I know this is romance sacrilege, but when I read Lord of Scoundrels about ten years ago, I traded it back to the ubs. I don’t remember that I hated it, just that I didn’t particularly want to keep it. This was before I started reviewing romances, or even interacting with other readers online, for that matter. Now that I know that it is an all-time favorite of many readers (indeed, it earned the number one slot in the last two of our three top 100 romance polls), I’d be curious to reread it. Maybe there’s something there that I missed the first time around. One of the reasons I’d like to give it another shot is that I’ve kept every other Chase book I’ve read, and in recent years I have really looked forward to them. Her latest novel, Lord Perfect, won’t disappoint. It’s simply delightful, with enjoyable characters, terrific humor, and a fun plot. It’s very nearly…perfect.
Benedict Carsington, Viscount Rathbourne is the heir to the earl of Hargate, and well-known for being scrupulously correct. He has a set of rules by which he lives, and he is very attentive to the expectations of his family and his obligations to his country. Even so, he has great affection for his brothers – even though they don’t hold themselves to similar standards of behavior. (Two of the brothers – Alistair and Rupert – were the heroes of Chase’s two previous books). Benedict knows that for him, expectations are different. He’s the oldest, and the heir. But when he meets Bathsheba Wingate, his famous self-discipline is at risk of crumbling.
Bathsheba Wingate is one of the “Dreadful DeLuceys.” They are thus named to differentiate them from the respectable wing of the family. Bathsheba’s branch of the family tree started with a pirate/rogue and is chock full of swindlers, cheats, and scandals. Her parents were no different, but she is. Whether it’s because she had an excellent governess, or because she just favors the respectable side of the family, she is determined to live honorably despite her disreputable relations. She married at a young age to a younger son of an aristocratic family – whose parents immediately cut him off. Since his death, she’s been scraping by giving art lessons, trying to raise her daughter Olivia to be a respectable woman.
It’s through Olivia that Bathsheba and Benedict meet. Benedict takes his nephew Peregrine to an Egyptian exhibit, and while he attempts to sketch one of the artifacts, he encounters Olivia. The two have an argument of sorts, and Bathsheba and Benedict become involved. The attraction between them is almost immediate. But soon thereafter, Benedict learns of Bathsheba’s shameful family. Obviously she is completely unsuitable, and he resolves to put her out of his mind. But in spite of his intentions, Benedict engages Bathsheba as a private art teacher for Peregrine, taking care to keep the connection quiet. A servant accompanies Peregrine to Bathsheba’s section of the city for the lessons, and they attract little notice. Meanwhile, Benedict also shows Bathsheba some small ways to improve her lot. He helps her move to a nicer section of the city, and shows her the better places to exhibit her work. He keeps his impulses firmly in check.
However, the situation takes a significantly improper turn. Peregrine’s parents decide that he is to go to school is Scotland, and Benedict agrees to take him there (knowing that it will probably be disastrous). Losing the fees will be a huge blow to Bathsheba’s income. The impulsive Olivia decides to take matters into her own hands, and sets off to find the legendary family treasure. She confides her plans to Peregrine, who intends to stop her but instead ends up getting swept into the journey. Bathsheba and Benedict take off together after the children.
I would hesitate to say much more about what happens. From this point the book becomes a road romance, with Bathsheba and Benedict in hot pursuit of Peregrine and Olivia. Along the way there are mishaps, humor, and happily plenty of romance. Though much of the conflict is outside the relationship, most of it truly centers on Benedict’s desire to follow his heart – and his desire to do the right thing for his family. Bathsheba has less of a struggle. She loves Benedict, but is utterly convinced that she cannot, in good conscience, pursue a relationship with him. It’s a tough situation, and the resolution, when it comes, is all that I hoped for and more.
At the heart of this story are the characters. Benedict may sound a bit like other oldest siblings in long-running series. You may be thinking of Wulfric from Balogh’s Bedwyn books, or even the more obscure Lucien (Danelle Harmon’s creation). Benedict is not like either of them, actually. He’s less glacial, and more down to earth. But he’s also very aware of what is expected of him, and how people think he ought to behave. As an oldest child who grew up hearing a constant refrain of, “You’re the oldest; you need to set the example,” I related to Benedict on a very personal level.
Bathsheba is equally delightful. She is by no means a saint, but her struggle to do the right thing and raise her difficult daughter in a fitting way is touching and believable. I also appreciated the fact that she was older (thirties) and had really loved her first husband. Benedict is a widower himself, so they are both getting a second chance at love. They make an excellent pair, in spite of all the obstacles in their path.
Great characters need a plot worthy of their depth, and this book certainly provides it. Their journey is entertaining, romantic, and funny. The sex scenes sparkle, as does the dialogue. I was briefly afraid of a clichéd ending regarding the treasure, but I need not have doubted; it was pitch-perfect.
My only quibble, if you can call it that, was that I wanted more. I really wanted to be able to wallow in the happy end. It was the best part of all, and I simply craved more of it. Happily, there are still Carsington siblings yet to come. And as far as I am concerned, each Chase book is better than the last. Lord Perfect will go straight to my keeper shelf.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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