HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-80406-1
Historical Romance, 2018
As an unmarried woman in her early thirties, Sydney Honeywell could use some money to spend on herself. Hence, a while back she used her late grandmother’s journal as source material for a series revolving around a female explorer in Egypt who meets all kinds of dash and danger while locking horns with a roguish scoundrel. Before she knew it, Tales of a Lady Adventurer in Egypt is a runaway success, with “Mrs Gordon” being hailed as the Queen of the Desert by an adoring nation of fans. All is well and good, until she starts getting rude and increasingly aggressive feedback from the Earl of Brenton, who claims that she is a fraud. Actually, Sydney, like her grandparents, is a pretty good scholar of everything Egypt, if she may say so, and so what if she has never actually seen that place? Oh, to be called a fake, how annoying!
Harry Armstrong, the new earl, is not happy because he is trying to get his own soon-to-be magnum opus, which he would title My Adventures in Egypt, The True Writings of Harold Armstrong – “true” is the definitive word here – but every publisher he sends his work to turns up their noses and tell him that they’d rather read something from the Queen of the Desert. Queen of the… oh, the nerve of that fraud! He and his two friends spent a while in Egypt, and the country transformed them from rather naïve young men in search of the romantic thrills of being a treasure hunter into more accomplished archeologists and scholars over the years. He and his friend have lost their interest in adventuring in Egypt when their other buddy apparently died – his body was never found – and the two of them returned to London when he inherited a title thanks to the usual “he died, he died too, everyone died, and that left him” way. It irks him that people clamors for something that is clearly inaccurate and made-up, when his own work is the real deal. In a moment of weakness, he fires off some angry letters to Mrs Gordon’s publisher.
Seeing an opportunity, the publisher decides to hold a public wager. Both Mrs Gordon and Harry will travel to Egypt – the publisher will finance it, and has a reporter tag along to report on things – and there, she will prove the earl wrong and show that she is the real deal. Sydney’s old lady friends from the Lady Travelers Society will tag along too. Watch out Egypt, Sydney is coming!
The Lady Traveler’s Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl is fun, fun, fun. Note though, that despite the bulk of this story taking place in Egypt, the fun originates from the banters and humorous set-ups rather than swashbuckling adventures. The author balances farce and a more down to earth kind of humor very well, and the comedy easily veers from one to the other effortlessly in a seamless manner, when on paper both types of humor lie on completely opposite poles. This is the kind of humor that Amanda Quick used to do very well, if we want to have any point of comparison, and indeed, much of this story is comparable of the best of the other author’s works. Really, the humor works nearly all the time, and reading this thing is delightful.
While on paper the hero and the heroine aren’t exactly playing on the same level – she doesn’t know that he’s the earl, and he’s a far more streetwise authority in Egypt – the author actually levels that playing field very well. Harry is besotted to the point that he’s entertaining the idea of making her his wife around the first third point of the story, and he soon realizes that he can’t bear to win the wager, as doing so will ruin her livelihood and make her the focus of an expose by their ambitious reporter traveling companion. Therefore, he doesn’t play dirty or try to be an asshole here – in fact, he soon morphs into a reluctant knight in shining armor who wants to be the Omar Sharif that sweeps Sydney off her feet in an exotic land.
Only, Sydney doesn’t need rescuing. To my delight, this is one heroine who blossoms once she is free to pursue her own dreams, and it’s hilarious how Harry will occasionally rush onto a scene only to realize that our heroine has everything in control and there is never any need for him. There are some silly moments from her, mind you, but given that she is a novice in Egypt, that’s to be expected. It’d be far more unrealistic if she quickly morphed into some ultra-competent type, since she needs to earn her merit badges first.
Even the old ladies aren’t as annoying as I expected. They were intrusive in the previous books in the series, but here, they actually have roles to play, and they stay away to give Sydney and Harry their time alone when the need arises. These women appear to be sharp and cunning in a good way, rather than just irritating in the previous books, and I like them a lot in this one.
Oh, and yes, one may be tempted to scrutinize this story for the author’s own point of view about romance novels and reviewers, but if you ask me, there’s nothing here to get too excited over. The author rightfully opts to tell a fun story first and foremost, and she doesn’t get on a soapbox and yell at her readers through a megaphone.
If there is any reason as to why I won’t give this one five oogies, it’s the late third act, when the story trundles down a more adventurous route. There are some developments here that have me scratching my head, and there is especially a “twist” involving a character that I really hope will never show up as that would just cheapen Harry’s angst completely. Oh well, it shows up, and things get cheapened.
Still, The Lady Traveler’s Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl is still a fun road trip story all things considered, with a main couple that bounce off banter and behave like the perfect partners in crime in a natural kind of synergy. Everything – well, nearly everything – fits perfectly, making it one of the best things to read and close 2018 with.
By the way, despite the claims on the author’s website as well as some online bookstores at the time of writing, my copy which I’ve ordered off Book Depository doesn’t come with a bonus short story.