Little Black Dress Books, £5.99, ISBN 978-0-7553-4779-7
Historical Romance, 2009
A Most Lamentable Comedy is related to The Rules of Gentility in that the main characters and some secondary characters from the previous book show up here as part of the ensemble cast. This story can stand alone pretty well, however, because the secondary characters’ pre-existing relationships do not intrude too significantly into the main story line. All you need to know about them is laid out clearly by the author in this book.
However, this story is written in a similar style to that in The Rules of Gentility, so there is a high chance you will enjoy this book if you enjoyed the previous book. At any rate, if you like your British historical romances to be a little different from the usual formulaic material, you’re in for a treat in this one.
Lady Caroline Elmhurst is… well, fast. She married her first husband, a much older man, for his money, which of course was not unusual for women of her time. When he died, she proceeded to seek male companionship, usually men who could keep her in the lifestyle she had become accustomed to. Unfortunately, her second husband proceeded to squander the money she had inherited from her first husband before he had the grace to die. When the story opens, poor Caroline is forced to use her sheets to fashion an escape route out of her rented room, as her creditors bang on her door while her landlady gleefully condemns her as a whore. It is so undignified, not to mention rather embarrassing. Caroline, accompanied by her insolent maid Mary, decides to head over to Lord Otterwell’s estate in the country, where hopefully news of her financial ruination have not reached the folks there. She intends to secure herself a new wealthy husband ASAP. She does not foresee any difficulty in her latest endeavor.
Nicholas Congrevance is Caroline’s male counterpart in every way. Traveling across the Continent and supporting himself by charming lonely married women with money to throw his way, our cosmopolitan gigolo’s fortune was cut short in Venice when he was caught in the act by a husband who didn’t appreciate Nicholas’s vigorous servicing of his wife. Oh well, he decides to travel back to England with his manservant Barton and accept the invitation of his friend Lord Otterwell to attend the man’s weekend party.
So we have two people, looking for new wealthy marks, and they just have to gravitate to each other without knowing that the other person does not have any great fortune to be spare. It doesn’t help matters that these two have to participate in a production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that becomes increasingly out of control as rehearsal progresses. Also, the weekend party is attended by a former lover of Caroline whose wife doesn’t approve of her presence. Not only that, Nicholas and Caroline are pretty much roped into a matchmaking plot to pair off two secondary characters. Falling in love is inevitable in a farce such as this, and one can only hope that our naughty twosome have their armors all ready.
As you can probably tell from the synopsis, Nicholas and Caroline are not your typical hero and heroine. I have this feeling that some readers will find especially Caroline particularly objectionable because she makes no apologies for being a gloriously flirtatious hussy with a PhD in gold digging, while Nicholas will probably be granted immunity from reader outrage due to the prevalent double standards among readers of the genre, even if he is as “bad” as Caroline here. Both characters are incorrigible and they are a perfect match for each other, and therefore, I can only enjoy every minute as they fall in love despite trying very hard not to. Actually, I find these two characters very likable to the core. If I overlook the characters’ mercenary intentions, I will find that there are plenty to adore about these two – they are funny, self aware, and well matched in their chemistry and “been around the block” experience. Ms Mullany does not contrive to put Caroline in a weaker position in any way – Caroline gives back as good as she gets from Nicholas, which makes their relationship so fun to follow. What particularly amuses me is that these two do have a conscience which kicks in at the most inopportune moments.
This story is generally well-paced and the humor works very well, making me laugh out loud at many moments… until the last few chapters, that is, where Ms Mullany has her characters play out one last charade that I feel is unnecessary. These chapters serve only to pad the story a little longer, I feel. Caroline and Nicholas treat each other’s past in a “So what?” manner – after all, they are hardly in any position to judge each other here, heh – so the last few chapters serve only to prolong the inevitable happy ending.
Still, the bulk of the story is too much fun to read. The secondary characters play their roles without taking over the story, allowing the main characters to steal the show effortlessly. There is nothing much that I find lamentable in this comedy – A Most Lamentable Comedy is a most entertaining trip down a path less taken by other historical romances set in England in the 1800s.