A Walk on the Lighter Side: A New Romance Series from Tessa Dare

A brunette in a red dress posing in front of a castle

Romancing the Duke

If you’re a Tessa Dare fan, you’re probably going to like this book. I did, although not as much as some of her earlier work.

In this new Castles Ever After series, Dare is going where Eloisa James went before her — away from too much specific historical context and into a more fairytale version of Regency England. Like James, Dare is using actual fairytales as her inspiration — this is hardly new in romance, and in particular, we have quite a selection of Beauty and the Beast retellings. Readers who want their history accurate and detailed probably won’t enjoy this book. I really had to give myself over to it as alternate history, or that delightful period called The Recency. Once I determined that I could do that, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The set-up is that Izzy Goodnight has been left without money or a means to support herself upon the death of her father, whose fantasy stories had been the source of their income since Izzy’s childhood. Her only hope is that she’s been notified that her godfather left her a castle, so she goes there to take possession. Of course things don’t go so smoothly, as the castle is inhabited by the Duke of Rothbury, who claims that he owns it. (The castle is in terrible shape, of course, and Rothbury [Ransom] is a recluse with terrible social skills and an interesting injury that he believes renders him hideous and unloveable.) Ransom refuses to acknowledge Izzy’s claim to the castle, while she refuses to leave in deference to his. Also, the sexual chemistry between them is hot and heavy from the start.

What made the book work for me was, as always, Dare’s skill at characterization. I liked Izzy — I liked that she had a practical side but also a taste for fantasy, and how that played out. (She talks to herself, and I found her conversations pretty amusing.) I liked that she wasn’t pretty, and that was okay for several reasons. Most of all, I liked how she went after what she wanted, including Ransom.

Ransom is the beast figure, of course — wounded, withdrawn from the world, unwillingly dragged out of his solitude by a fascinating beauty. (I said Izzy wasn’t pretty, and she’s not, but Ransom’s injury has affected his vision, so he judges her by her voice, her figure, her skin and her hair, rather than her facial features.) He is quick enough to value Izzy and to see that she can help him that the story doesn’t get bogged down in his determination to remain a recluse. That storyline runs along with their attempts to unravel the ownership of the property and to handle the challenges of sharing it. What made Ransom work for me was the way he handled his injury, and the way the author handled it. He’s not a victim, he’s certainly not less of a man, and he doesn’t need his vision to return in order to get on with his life.

There’s a good set of secondary characters, although slightly more caricatured than I expect from this author. Most of her previous books feature characters who have been or will be in multiple books, and I don’t think that’s the case here, so maybe that’s one reason. There are some incidents where you either suspend your disbelief or give up, I think, mostly to do with Izzy’s father’s writing and people’s extreme reactions to it. I was willing to do that, but I imagine that an unwilling (or unable!) reader would have a terrible time.

I think this book is supposed to be angsty — Ransom is badly wounded, the castle and his fortune are at stake, Izzy is potentially homeless, and Ransom is determined not to get caught in an ongoing relationship. But honestly, to me those obstacles worked more like romantic comedy than angst. That’s not a complaint, because I laughed my way through this book and sighed happily at the end.


First Post of the Year: January TBR Challenge, “Shorts”

Happy New Year, everybody! I almost made a resolution to blog more this year, but I’m crap at resolutions, so I didn’t. At least I have our very own SuperLibrarian Wendy running TBR Challenge 2014, to get me posting at least once a month.

This month’s challenge was a novella or short story; easing us into the TBR is a smart plan, Wendy! I dug out a Christmas novella from last year, Jennifer Ashley’s A MacKenzie Family Christmas. It was sitting TBR because I have lagged behind in this series, and I had delusions of catching up before reading it. (I’ve read books 1 and 2, and this is 4.5, according to the author’s web site.) I figure once a whole year has gone by without me buying or reading a book in the series, I’d better go ahead without worrying about spoilers for books 3 and 4.

I enjoyed reading it; it’s warm and cozy, since almost everyone is happily paired up and it’s a joyous family Christmas gathering. The book is sort of an epilogue for the first four books (see the happily ever after in action!), and a prologue for the book that follows (which I was intrigued by enough to buy, so I guess it worked). There’s very little real conflict, and there are a lot of plot moppets, um, children.

For me, the best part of revisiting the MacKenzie clan was all the interaction with Ian, whose book The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie started the series off back in 2009. Ian has an autism spectrum disorder, and I really appreciate the way it’s dealt with. First, Ian is always a person to the reader — he’s never just his disability, and characters who treat him as if he were are invariably shown to be shallow and wrong-headed. But he’s also not a saint; his disability makes life challenging for him and for those who love him, and that has to be dealt with. He isn’t cured of his disability by being in a loving relationship, although his marriage to Beth has helped him find new coping mechanisms and to feel more centered in dealing with others. Like most high-functioning people with ASD whom I have encountered, he can be very funny (although not everyone gets it), he’s wicked smart about the things he cares to study, and his view of the world isn’t wrong, it’s just different. I love the moments in the book where Ian’s way of looking at something makes more sense than anyone else’s, or where his thoughts on a subject cause others (including this reader) to take a whole new look at it.

If you haven’t read the series, this novella is not a place to start. If you’re not a fan of epilogues, characters from previous books who hang around, or following a couple into their happy ending, you should definitely not read this. But although it got a bit treacle-y in places, I am glad that I read it — there are a couple of scenes that were so funny and insightful that they more than balanced the sappy stuff.