Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Dangerous Gentleman, by Julia London

The first book in the Rogues of Regent Street series is the story of Adrian Spence, Earl of Albright, one of three titled men, best friends since Eton. The story starts with quite a bang as Adrian, fed up with his antics, accuses his cousin Philip of cheating at cards. Phillip calls him out and proceeds to commit suicide by duel by firing at Adrian after Adrian’s delopement, causing Adrian to fire again. Adrian is devastated and wracked by guilt at Phillips’ death by his hand, no matter that it was in self-defense.

Adrian’s woes started long before that fateful morning. His father hates him, had horribly abused his mother, and inexplicably adores his second son. After the duel, he is disinherited in favor of that second son, his brother, Benedict. All he has left is his title. He decides to foil his father and Benedict in one masterful stroke by stealing Benedict’s would-be fiance out from under him.

Lady Lilliana Dashell has had a crush on Adrian since she was a girl. When the opportunity presents itself to marry him, she’s absolutely stunned. And she’s right to be surprised, but she’s blinded by the opportunity that has presented itself, and she accepts his offer with enthusiasm.

I have to say right here, that I don’t much like Adrian at this point, and my opinion of him changes little through most of this story. As a flawed hero, Adrian is pitch perfect, but highly contemptible. For example, Adrian relays his thoughts about his new wife in some pretty degrading terms, calling her, among other things, a magpie and a chatterbox. a country bumpkin, and an alien. He likens his marriage to the biggest mistake of his life, and calls it a move of terrifying consequence. He treats Lilliana with horrible indifference after promising her everything. The term, “act in haste, repent at leisure” has never been truer than in Adrian’s case. And he feels abject remorse and guilt over Benedict’s loss of Lilliana, over Philip’s death and over ruining Lilliana’s life. He is in deep trouble.

Lilliana’s happiness at the marriage, on the other hand, is so complete, that you know she is going to fall hard when the truth about Adrian’s feelings for her comes out. And Adrian’s misery and disinterest in this marriage is so palpable that she cannot hide from that truth for very long. Adrian's physical hunger for his wife, on the other hand, does not suffer at all, which makes for a steamy read in places. However, the big question remains. Can these two meet somewhere in the middle and make a life out of a marriage started in revenge? Lilliana decides to take matters into her own hands. And the results of this are hilarious, for a short time.

The writing is witty, and you really want to laugh at some of the antics Lilliana pulls to get a response, any response, out of Adrian. Perhaps all would have been well if it weren’t for Benedict, with an agenda of his own, who stirs up such delicious trouble between Adrian and Lilliana that you just want to run him through with the nearest sharp object.

There is a wonderful cast of characters in this book in the form of Adrian’s servants. Adrian’s butler, Max, is a terrific foil to Lilliana’s antics. The author uses him, in part, as pseudo-narrator, and thus gives us another insight into the main character’s thoughts and actions. It’s an effective and endearing plot device. I’d like to hire Max away from Adrian, myself. I could use a good, sensitive butler around the house.

When a tragic, misconstrued accident occurs and Adrian’s long-standing feud with his father and brother comes to a head, will it be enough to bring these two together? Will Adrian finally let Lilliana in? Well, yes and no. And for the rest, you’ll just have to read on. Because I promise you, just when you think it’s over, it most certainly is not.

Well written and fast paced, this book is dark and wrenching in places and surprisingly upbeat in others. Once again, Julia London writes romantic fiction that is top notch. I recommend this book highly, and will be reading the other two Rogues of Regent Street books shortly.

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