HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-80398-9
Historical Romance, 2017
The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen is Victoria Alexander’s debut effort with a new publisher, and I swear the titles are growing longer with each passing book the author puts out. It is, however, a pretty accurate title that tells everyone what they will get with this story: a road trip adventure, this time mostly in Paris.
The Lady Travelers Society, formed just eight months before this story opens, is the brainchild of three widows, whose late husbands were famous explorers. Claiming to understand the desire of women to see the world themselves, the Society functions both as an investment thing (you pay a membership fee, and a part of the fee is kept aside for that day when you are finally ready for your own adventure – although you will need to pay additional fees for administrative matters and what not when that happens, of course) and a chance for aspiring adventurous ladies to mingle and attend lectures on geography, anthropology, and more.
India Prendergast suspects that something is amiss with the Society when her cousin, a woman in her fifties, abruptly ceased correspondence a few weeks after embarking on a trip outside of England, arranged by the Society. Her letters to the Society have not been answered, and when the cops don’t take her seriously, she decides to join the Society herself to figure out what exactly the people behind it are up to. She suspects that a man must be masterminding something nefarious, because we all know that women can never think or do anything bad. India will fit right in with those people today that use social media to scream about how woke they are and how every cis white male deserves to be put to the gun.
Derek Saunders, the Earl of Danby’s heir (Danby’s his uncle), knows for a fact that the Society is a scam. He is the nephew of one of the founders, and he is positively certain that none of them has ever traveled outside of England. This means that these ladies are running a business under false pretenses and worse, they have sent a member off without actually arranging for that lady’s accommodations, that lady is now MIA, and the lady’s cousin has contacted the Scotland Yard. A former rake forced to behave by his uncle, Derek is here to clean up these ladies’ mess. Family’s family after all. Plus, when he learns that the three ladies started this venture because they had no other means to support themselves – don’t ask me why they can’t ask Danby for funds – he feels some guilt too for not paying his aunt more attention.
As you can imagine, that cousin is India. Worse, she overhears his conversation with his aunt and her partners – enough to incriminate the ladies if she chooses to go to the authorities. India only wants her aunt back, though, so she and he end up traveling abroad to locate this missing woman, along with some companions of course to chaperone them and ensure that her reputation doesn’t get too ruined in the process. Of course, when attraction flares and the urge to do naughty thing arises, we all know these chaperones aren’t too good at making our main characters behave.
This is a pretty humorous, light, and frothy read. It’s familiar enough to tick off the boxes and placate readers who don’t want anything too different or scary, but at the same time different enough (especially in terms of premise, setting, and all) to entertain readers who want a bit more than another comfort read. The characters aren’t too deep, though, and hence the romance doesn’t have much weight to it. But the story can be fun… provided that the reader can overlook two things, that is.
One, the story is built on a few glaring bouts of stupidity to keep things going, and it’s more often than not at the expense of making the heroine come off as a self-righteous imbecile. India is a sheltered woman, but she acts like she knows everything and is always 500% correct. Of course, she isn’t even close to being smart here. Now, normally this isn’t so bad as the heroine has to eat some humble pie now and then, but along the process, I have to sit through painful moments of dumbassery.
For example, our heroine embarks on a search for her aunt without bothering to remember properly her aunt’s itenary or the hotels that she stayed in. Oh god, that one is especially painful to sit through – I have this urge to gnaw at the book when I come across that moment. And then there are the heroine’s many haughty but wrong-headed leaps to conclusion using a weird kind of logic that only makes sense if I were to assume that the heroine is a bit ‘special’ in the head.
The hero often has to do some bizarre and often not-too-smart things too, although since he has a penis and the penis confers +100 points to his intelligence score, he is often aware of the absurdity of such situations. The author however, pushes the hero to do those things anyway, using some justifications that boil down simply to plot contrivance.
The second issue is the discrepancy between the premise and the tone of the story. The Lady Travelers Society could have very well sent a member to who knows what kind of terrible danger and worse, but the story treats this as some kind of hee-hee-hee premise, with the three ladies playing the roles of obnoxiously chatty women. I like that these ladies are cunning enough to use their hee-hee-hee babblemouth antics to distract people who are confronting them about their bad behavior, but the fact remains that no one seriously considers that what these ladies did was beyond the pale. India is said to be frantic about her missing cousin, but she runs into the search without any preparations, and shows little genuine urgency or distress at her cousin going MIA. Derek doesn’t even seem to care about the missing cousin – he just wants to make sure that the Lady Travelers Society does not embarrass the family name.
It gets to a point where I wish Heloise would show up dead just to spite these people for acting like she is nothing more than an excuse to set the story in motion, but of course, we can’t have that. As you can probably guess, the whole thing is hand waved away in the end and everyone lives happily ever after without any recriminations, bitterness, and other negative emotions marring the day.
The whole story feels surreal to me, as a result. The way the characters don’t seem to care about Heloise may work if the author had ramped up the camp factor and make the story a farce. Maybe nobody cares about Eloise and they just want her found because her death would inconvenience everyone, perhaps? With its current tone, the premise and the way the characters behave don’t go together well, and I have a hard time getting into the story as a result.
Oh, and there is a bonus shorter story here: The Proper Way to Stop a Wedding (In Seven Days or Less). Let me check… yes, all the words in the title are there, I didn’t miss out a word or two. It’s a prequel to the previous story: the hero in this one is Derek’s uncle.
Now, this one is a bit more farcical in nature – its tone is the one that should have been adopted for the previous, longer story. Celia Bromley detests her older sister Katherine. Katherine is about to marry Edward, the Earl of Danby, in a week. Edward realizes that he’s fallen out of love with Katherine because he learns that they have nothing in common. Celia likes everything he likes, and she’s also hot, so now he’d rather have the honeymoon with her instead. Of course, Celia likes Edward too, which is fortunate or else things would get really messy. Fortunately, nearly everyone attending the upcoming wedding understands that it is only right that Edward and Celia get married – it’s obviously true love, rather than wedding jitters on his part and “I hate my sister so I’m screwing her man, YEAH BABY!” sentiments on her baby – so they all plot and strategize to make the happy couple happen.
This one is pretty alright, although the whole matchmaking thing can make me grit my teeth because of how icky-sweet cutesy-poo it can be. I find this story too frantic to be memorable, as it relies more on the characters’ antics than their personality or emotions to drag the story to the finish line, but tonally, at least, it is better put together compared to the longer story.