Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-973-1
Historical Romance, 2010
Lynne Connolly’s A Betting Chance starts in a way that can be confusing to you if you are unfamiliar with previous books in the author’s The Triple Countess series, especially when a pretty significant number of secondary characters with pre-established relationships with the hero are introduced along with him. If you muster some patience, however, all things will fall into place and who knows, you may end up enjoying this story as much as me, heh.
Poor Sapphira Vardon. Her father is not an unkind man, but he is the sort who believes that a daughter’s place in life is to obey her father absolutely, and any breach of behavior on her part from the script he has devised for her calls for a sound whipping. On the other hand, Sapphira isn’t a proper dutiful daughter. Thanks to her great-aunt’s influence and encouragement, she dreams of love with rogues who sweep her off her feet while peeking at naughty books. She has learned to keep any rebellious feelings suppressed inside her, but when she learns that her father has pretty much sold her off in marriage to a rather dim but randy young man whose control freak parents are even more tyrannical than her father, she knows that she has to do something or she will definitely die.
Therefore, she and her Great-Aunt Josephina come up with a plan where she will disguise herself and enter the neighborhood fun house – if you know what I mean – so that she can play at the tables. Since she is supposed to visit her aunt every Thursday, that means she has one day each week to win as much money as she can using her pretty good card sharp skills. By winning enough money before the wedding day, she can flee to some distant part of England where she will have enough papers and such to start life anew under a new identity, maybe as a widow of a soldier who died in everyone’s favorite war or something.
The problem begins when she decides to use the name of Lord Elston to gain entry into Mother Brown’s establishment. That man is supposed to be out of town for three weeks, so imagine her surprise when the very man shows up at the table to play alongside her. Corin, Lord Elston, is a rather easy-going gentleman who finds himself intrigued by this mysterious woman whose gambling skills could rival his. He must have her and discover her secrets! But as you can probably imagine, there are some people in this story who will not stand for these two to snog and get married that easily.
One thing I like about this story is how Ms Connolly’s characters may be characters that are familiar in many ways to readers of historical romances set in England, they are also different in ways that make them stand out. Sapphira, especially, comes off pretty well as a convincing young lady who is enterprising and determined enough to take a huge gamble in her current scheme, but she sometimes falters, especially in situations in which she is out of her depths. She is after all, at the end of the day, a sheltered virgin whose life for the most part has been strictly dictated by her father. Corin is a more straightforward character: a pretty typical English nobleman at the surface who also contains some protective instincts and ability to fall in love that make him a nice match for Sapphira. These two have some pretty good chemistry and intense sexual tension. What I really like here is that Sapphira’s attraction to Corin doesn’t cause her to do very stupid things.
What I also find interesting here is the portrayal of Sapphira’s father. Today, he would be a villain, but Ms Connolly decides to break away from doing the expected here and have Sapphira’s father instead come of as a man of his time, whose views of a woman’s place in life and the need to discipline said woman are in line with some of the common beliefs of that time setting. Sapphira actually cares for her father come what may, and I have to give Ms Connolly credit for pulling this off and still allowing Sapphira to not come off like a doormat martyr.
The story’s greatest weakness is the rushed series of events in the last few chapters. I find myself scratching my head at the way all the drama pops up one by one in neat little order, quite like Wile E Coyote’s orderly lining up of obstacles for the Road Runner in those old Looney Tunes cartoons. Ms Connolly also kills off a character that I find more sympathetic than villainous, and a part of me wishes that she has spared him and, I don’t know, give him a chance at redeeming himself. As the main characters have noted, it is not his fault that he has been raised to become a monster – with parents such as his, he has never any chance to be anything else.
All things considered, though, A Betting Chance is an entertaining romance that manages to be a little different from the same old formulaic historical romances out there that are set in England in the 19th century.