Michele Ann Young
October 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 1402213999
The Lady Flees Her Lord reads rather like a traditional Regency writ large, which is quite appropriate since the heroine is a plus sized woman. I enjoyed the first part of the book and found the hero and heroine to be very likable, but it fell apart at the end when the author tossed in everything but the kitchen sink.
To an outside observer, Lucinda, Lady Denbigh, would seem to have an enviable life with her handsome titled husband. Behind closed doors,though, things are very different. Denbigh is cruel and vicious. He abuses his wife physically and delights in insulting her. Most of his cruel remarks are directed at his wifeís figure Ė she is tall and voluptuous (I thought of her as rather like Emme, the plus-sized model), while he is slender and willowy. He often forbids her to eat anything but water biscuits and vinegar and makes cutting remarks when she pours his tea. Denbigh is especially angry because Lucinda's marriage agreement gives her a personal allowance and she refuses to let him gamble that away as he has all their other assets. They also have no children, and of course itís all her fault.
When Denbigh makes it clear that he expects her to have sex with the Duke of Vale at a house party, thatís the final straw. Lucinda has been saving money secretly and disguised, leaves her home, heading for the country where she intends to take on a new identity. At a coaching stop while Lucinda waits for a new coach, a shabby woman thrusts a child at her, asks her to watch the little girl, then disappears.
Meanwhile Hugo, Lord Wanstead, is undergoing yet another operation on his leg. Having served King and Country as a soldier, all he wants to do is get back to his estate. Hugo's father was not the best steward, but home is home and Hugo hopes to do better. Upon his return, Hugo finds that yes, the estate is in disarray, but he does have one tenant who pays on time - a widow named Mrs. Graham.
Hugo's return to the family estate shakes things up. Lucinda has rented the old dower house and lives there quietly with Sophia, the little girl. Hugo is immediately drawn to Lucinda since he loves big women (he is a very large man himself) and she becomes the instrument to draw him back into society.
Naturally there are complications. One of Hugo's companions is a man who runs in the Duke of Vale's circle and he knows of Lord Denbigh. Hugo himself is a mass of guilt over events in his life, none of which will be any surprise at all to romance readers. Before the happy ending, there are misunderstandings, nasty speeches, physical danger for our heroine, and one of the minor characters turns out to be not who he seemed at first (and this is totally inexplicable).
If The Lady Flees Her Lord had been written as a traditional Regency, I think it would have been a very good one. However, it is very padded. There are some scenes, like the one at the village festival, that are so drawn out that they become tedious. Especially at the end, the book drags and drags and I found myself skipping ahead to see if the story was ever going to advance.
The best part of the book was Lucinda. She came from a happy, loving family and married Lord Denbigh in a fit of romantic passion. He was handsome, charming, titled, and had such beautiful eyes, but her romantic dreams turned to dust and ashes very soon. Despite Denbigh's cruelty, Lucinda had enough backbone to keep her own money and she is savvy enough to invest wisely, grow her money, make her plans and get away from him. She isn't feisty or silly - she comes across as careful and shrewd. Lucinda is warm and loving and she will make Hugo a wonderful wife.
As for Hugo, he was more of a stock character - the tortured hero who beats himself up over events which were beyond his control. Underneath all the guilt, Hugo is a decent man, and I was happy that he ended up with Lucinda - clearly he needed a strong woman to take care of him.
This is the second book I've read from this small publisher. The first one, SEALed With A Kiss was dreadful, but The Lady Flees Her Lord was an enjoyable read for about three quarters of it. I'd love to see it cut down, polished up and published as a trad (I really miss those).
-- Ellen Micheletti
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