Suzanne Enoch’s A LADY’S GUIDE TO IMPROPER BEHAVIOR is an interesting romance between Teresa “Tess” Weller, a London socialite and the (anonymous) author of a popular guide on decorum for Ladies of Quality, and Colonel Bartholomew “Tolly” James, late of India. Something went badly wrong for Col. James in India, to the point that only he survived an attack by the Thuggee out of his entire company of men — yet the British East India Company refuses to admit an attack took place and has instead attempted to ruin Col. James’s reputation.
The latter part of the plot — exactly what happened to Col. James, and why is it that the British East India Company is behaving so badly? — is far more interesting than the romance, which despite its appealing characters often appears formulaic. That said, the action-adventure part of the plot is so very good that it carried me past some of the lesser sections, and it definitely carried me through the romance between Col. James (only Tess calls him Tolly) and Tess.
What helped to redeem the romance and bring it to a level I consider acceptable-to-above (thus the appellation “decent” that you see in the title) was the fact that Tess does have a spine and a heart, as she refuses to believe that Col. James is anything less than honorable no matter what the bigwigs at the British East India Company say. That she’d have this strength of character was not apparent from the beginning, as Tess is definitely a character who grows and changes during the course of this novel . . . in some senses, this is more of a coming of age story for both parties than it is a romance, but I enjoyed the additional complications and felt Ms. Enoch did a good job with them.
The story improves markedly whenever Col. James is actively in the picture; his journey, from a scarred military veteran no one in authority wants to believe to finding his feet, finding his friends, proving what happened to him is the plain, flat truth and succumbing to love with the not-so-dull Tess is more than worth the price of admission.
And the fact that Tess does grow and change allows her to realize that sometimes it’s better to behave improperly by societal standards — better all the way around, as it’s more enjoyable, not to mention far more realistic (as no one can be saintly all the time) — than to insist on “proper behavior” at all times. Because if Tess had behaved by “proper” standards, as soon as Col. James was accused of making up the attack by the Thuggee by the British East India Company bigwigs, she would’ve had to back off and leave him alone, no matter what her feelings were. And that would’ve been the wrong answer, all the way around — (of course, had she taken that avenue, there wouldn’t have been much of a story there, and Ms. Enoch is much too gifted of a writer to do that).
Overall, A LADY’S GUIDE TO IMPROPER BEHAVIOR is worth reading for the romance, the “coming of age” issues and the action-adventure parts of the plot, but I enjoyed the action-adventure and the “coming of age” plot-strands much more. That being said, A LADY’S GUIDE TO IMPROPER BEHAVIOR is a very good love story with some realistic complications, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
— reviewed by Barb