Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-1152-1
Historical Romance, 2012
Jane Goodger’s The Mad Lord’s Daughter is a bit different from the usual sort of historical romances set in England. The heroine, Melissa Atwell, is orphaned after the death of her father, and now, her uncle, the Earl of Braddock, is coming to take her under his care and introduce her to Society. Melissa is very learned and she believes in love. Sounds like any normal 23-year old heroine, doesn’t she?
Only, in the last 18 years, her father had never allowed her to leave her home. You see, that man hadn’t been the same ever since his wife died, and believing that diseases are spread by touch, he had his beloved daughter confined in the house, wearing gloves at all time except during the night or when she’s in the bathroom, so that Melissa would be safe. Now, Melissa is leaving home – literally – for the first time in so long, and she is terrified. She is also aware that her father’s home would be sold shortly after, so there is no going back to her old life.
Don’t worry, Melissa is actually a pretty sane heroine. She has read many books and has been tutored on manners and what not, but of course, putting what she has learned to practice is not always easy. She is scared to touch anything with her bare hands at first, for example. But she is soon getting used to life with her new guardian, and in the process, falls in love with Braddock’s son John. No, don’t fret – Melissa isn’t her father’s biological daughter, so it’s fine for her and John to get it on. And yes, her family history can get a bit… complicated.
There is also a secondary romance here, between Braddock and the woman he has hired to act as Melissa’s chaperone, Diane Stanhope. Braddock has always viewed Diane as the most proper lady around, so much so that she pretty much fades into the background unless he needs her for something, while she has always been in love with him. But the stubborn man refuses to believe that a man and woman can love each other, and it seems like there is no getting through to that stubborn man. Will Diane finally get her man or will she end up bludgeoning him with a blunt object instead?
The characters in this story are all likable sort, which is a bit surprising considering how John and Braddock both trumpet the same boring song all the time about how there is no such thing as true love between a man and a woman. Instead of being flat played out, both men come off as… well, I have to admit that I often wish that I could knock some sense into them (especially Braddock), but these two men come off as adorably silly instead of cruel or stupid.
The female characters are far more interesting here. Melissa is a heroine who is a nice mix of sensibility and idealism, and there is much about her that feels real. I just adore her never-say-die attitude. She talks the hero when there is something that upsets here, she doesn’t get melodramatic over imagined slights, and when she does get upset, it is over genuine concerns. I have to say, she is very well-adjusted for someone with her past, probably too well-adjusted, so much so that when the gloves are literally off, the story actually shifts focus to the men’s “We don’t believe in love, sob!” baggage. That’s a shame, because Melissa’s story is far more interesting.
It’s the same with Diane – she may be the absolute worst chaperone in the world, but she is a fascinating character. She’s a woman who has her heart broken before due to being treated as invisible by the people around her, so much so that it’s actually amazing how she retains a pretty good sense of humor. Her interactions with Braddock can go from humorous to poignant, but they are always some of the most interesting moments in this story. In contrast, John and Melissa have this wide-eyed idealistic true love thing between them, and while it’s a sweet romance, it just makes me feel so old and jaded.
There is much to love here, so why am I not more excited about this story? Well, it’s because after all that build up about Melissa’s parentage, that particular issue is resolved off-stage in a two page oblique account from a character that pops up for the first time in that very scene. There are wrap-up scenes that make me go, “Wait, that’s it?” and then there are wrap-up scenes, such as this one, that make me go, “WAIT, THAT’S IT?”
At any rate, The Mad Lord’s Daughter is an interesting romance that tries to take a path less traveled, and it’s worth a look because it’s a well-written kind of different. Still, I can’t shake off this feeling that the author hasn’t quite succeeded in making the most out of her story.