Booktrope, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-62015-485-4
Historical Romance, 2014
Don’t be distracted by the glowing woman on the cover – I’m not sure who or what she is, but our heroine Lily Farthingale – hey, it’s not nice to laugh at her last name – is definitely not a vampire or ghost. On paper, she appears to be more terrifying than any vampire in the land: another studious young lady in London who wants to be admitted into a male-dominated society, like she’s some tired old cliché that keeps rising from the grave no matter how many times one kills it. Fortunately, Lily turns out to be so much better than that. In fact, while much of the story seems to be rehash of the same old stuff, the author deftly and neatly sidesteps much of the more annoying tropes while making this otherwise familiar story something that is completely her own.
In My Fair Lily, we have Ewan Cameron, a laird in his own right, who reluctantly comes down to London to stay with his estranged grandfather, the Duke of Lotheil. He promised his late father that he and his sister Meggie would do this, you see, so here he is. Unfortunately, he is just in town when his adorable but, er, enthusiastic hairy monster of a dog, Jasper, makes a complete mess out of Lily’s dress, damages the book she is carrying, and makes her lose her glasses. Lily doesn’t really mind at the end of the day, because Jasper is just a silly dog, but Ewan feels compelled to make amends. Because the Ton can be quite the incestuously small world, it turns out that Lily knows and is close to Lady Eloise, a family friend of Ewan and Meggie, and Eloise decides that Lily would be the perfect person to befriend and show Meggie around town. Meanwhile, the Duke and Lily are not going to be friends anytime soon – he leads the crowd that rejected her application to the Royal Society and he calls her the “monkey girl” (her application is submitted along with her paper on the lemurs of Madagascar) – but he senses an opportunity and secretly offers Lily the membership of the Royal Society if she can help endear the Duke to his estranged grandchildren.
In this story, Lily is the one who has to transform someone into a polished and acceptable version of society folk, as Ewan is the defiant Scotsman who is proud of the fact that he doesn’t give a damn about what the English think about him. In fact, he initially refuses to consider Lily as an attractive lady because she’s one of them, although his randy pee-pee would soon show him the error of his xenophobic ways. Lily may seem like a stereotype at first, but she’s a good kind of familiarity – she is feisty, but smart enough to ensure that she doesn’t deliver dumb-dumb along the way; she is a bluestocking, but not clueless about the world around her to the point of being a total weirdo; and she can try her best to take care of herself when the going gets tough. Lily is the smart, sensible, and witty kind of nerd girl that I can definitely root for. Likewise, Ewan seems like a stereotype – the arrogant male who is so sure of himself – but, just like Lily, he doesn’t do dumb or act like a mule. There are plenty of opportunities for screechy misunderstanding or characters jumping to misguided self-righteous indignation, but while these characters do have their silly moments, they never take these opportunities to become imbeciles. Instead, I get a fun, sometimes silly, sometimes very funny couple becoming adorable fools.
But I am not too fond of the way the author keeps piling on external conflicts later in the story. Poor Ewan and Lily turn into danger magnets, and after a while, the constant drama becomes tedious. The chemistry between Lily and Ewan is the best thing about their story, and the author dilutes that by having all kinds of trouble befalling these characters and the people close to them. These external troubles aren’t particularly interesting, so I feel that the author is just downplaying the strongest aspects of her story for something that is actually very average.
Still, My Fair Lily is a very entertaining read. The humor is just effervescent, the characters are adorable, and the chemistry, quiet times, not-so-quiet times – these aspects of the romance are all well done. Initially, I was annoyed that I had to order the trade paperback instead of the much cheaper Kindle version of this book (geographical restriction, always a wonderful thing), but now, I’m just so pleased that I succumbed to the whim to order this book just because the cover looks pretty.
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