(Avon Romance/HarperCollins e-book 2008)
I don’t read much in the way of romance novels: though I do like a good romance in a novel that’s actually about something else, I do read them from time to time. This one was a recommendation from Elyse at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, as an example of a romance novel in which the hero was not a manipulative tosspot to the heroine and their difficulties together stemmed from real problems. The cover and title of this book, however, both give a completely inaccurate picture of the story within.
Pretty awful, yes?
Jane Chatham is an impoverished gentlewoman reduced to giving dancing lessons to young children of the nobility – in particular at the house of Lydia, Lady Harwood. Simon, Lord Granger, has been asked by his friend Viscount Delancey – a former colleague in Intelligence – to check out the lady’s salon to find out how much likelihood there is of his younger brother marrying widowed Lady Harwood. Simon decides that Jane would prove a good source of information, and proposes that he pay her for this. Jane’s a little unwilling at first, but she needs the money, and so agrees. However, not so very much later, both Lady Harwood and then Delancey are asking her to provide information about the people who visit her salon. Lady Harwood merely wants to see if she’s making the right choice with respect to Richard Proctor, but Delancey and Granger are concerned that Lady Harwood’s salon is being used to pass sensitive information – the book is set during Napoleon’s brief exile on Elba.
Jane and Simon fall in love, of course, complicated by his feelings of betrayal from a previous lover in Paris when he was spying for Britain and his uncertainty as to whether Jane is to be trusted, and her uncertainty that they could ever have any relationship of equals.
The plot is interesting, and I liked the setting, and I agree with Elyse that Simon is really nice to Jane without being dismissive of her totally reasonable feelings, even if I felt that she ought to be a bit more assertive of herself: for a woman going on so much about her reputation she doesn’t do enough to convince the reader (or Simon) that it’s really important to her. Lady Harwood changes nicely in the reader’s estimation from a bit of an airhead to someone with her head screwed on, even if she doesn’t consider Jane anything like an equal.
There were things which bugged me, though, some of which had to do with the dancing: for example, Jane uses a lot of ballet terminology in her lessons which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have been used in 1814, and it’s never stated how Jane learned ballet anyway: there was no ballet schools in England until the twentieth century, as far as I know, and it’s unlikely she would have been in France to learn from teachers at the Paris Opéra during the Napoleonic wars. Also, Layton betrays an ignorance of London of the Regency period – no woman like Jane would consider living in Whitechapel, even if she was finding difficulty finding lodgings in a better part of town, partly because it was a low-class area, and partly because it was just too far from her clients to be worthwhile. There are several mentions of ‘districts’ rather than particular areas of London, which smacks more of North American than British usage. And some of Jane’s behaviour with Simon did make me raise my eyebrows: what was she thinking?
Still, I enjoyed this as a light, fluffy read with a couple of appealing characters and a slight plot: I’m not sure I’d go on to read more of Layton’s work, though, if this is a representative example of her novels.