Posts Tagged Suzanne Enoch

Suzanne Enoch’s “A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior” — Decent Romance, Better Adventure Story

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.

Grade: B-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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“A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes” — Fun, but . . . .

Suzanne Enoch’s A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RAKES is a Regency romance about Diane Benchley, the Dowager Countess of Cameron (who’s in her late twenties), and the Marquis of Haybury, Oliver Warren, a gambler and rake who’s about the same age.  Two years prior to the story’s opening, when Diane was newly widowed, Oliver and Diane had a torrid affair overseas, which ended only when Oliver ran off.   This is important to know, as otherwise, the later romance between the two will not make much sense.

The reason these two are brought back together is quite unusual for the Regency genre; it seems that Diane wants to open a legal gambling house.  (This is something that wasn’t likely to happen in Regency-era England.  Gambling was known, but it was strictly illegal.)  She’s decided to open it in Adam House, the residence she inherited from her late husband, Frederick, and needs Oliver to help her set it up.  Diane intends to open up her casino with as many female employees as she possibly can, but few if any women at that time would admit to knowing how to gamble, much less have enough knowledge to become a dealer.  This is why Diane needs Oliver (and his gambling expertise) to help her train as many women as possible in the time allotted (five weeks) before her in-home casino opens. 

Of course, Oliver wants nothing to do with this plan, but Diane has a way around Oliver’s objections: blackmail.  The more she gets Oliver to help her, the more enmeshed she becomes in his life, and he in hers.  Ultimately, both find out they’d rather be with each other, as obnoxious as they can often be, than with anyone else. 

This plotline is “played straight” for the most part, which is a real problem because it has way too many elements that are out of character for the Regency era.  Here’s just a few of my objections regarding the lack of historical accuracy in Ms. Enoch’s novel:

First, while I can believe in Diane as a woman wronged who wants revenge (whether on her late, unlamented gamester husband, Frederick, or on Oliver for running off), I can’t really understand why she thinks she’d be able to run a legal gambling establishment out of her house.  That no one — not Oliver, not anyone else — tries to point out that a casino wasn’t legal at that time and place and thus couldn’t be set up the way Diane wishes is a major plot hole.

Second, while there are many strong women in history — and while at least a few of them liked having more strong women around them as trustworthy servants and employees — it stretches credulity way too much to have so many female employees at this gambling den.  Ms. Enoch sets it up that the only men who have regular employment at the Adam House casino are bouncers, but that just doesn’t work for the time and place under discussion.  At most, there were a few women who worked as illegal casino employees as dealers and the like.  But there certainly weren’t very many of them.

Third, Diane’s behavior is much too modern for the era.  She wants to rescue all of the women who work in her casino, and has a female confidante who is well-versed in knives and guns — a woman who is, more or less, Diane’s bodyguard.  None of this makes sense for the Regency period.  Not one bit of it.

Fourth, the naming conventions are wrong with regards to Diane’s name.  She should be referred to as the Dowager Countess of Cameron rather than “Lady Diane Benchley.”  (Benchley is her late husband’s family name.)  This is never rectified, and considering this is something Ms. Enoch should know in her sleep due to her many previous Regency romances, it makes no sense.

These major inconsistencies and anachronisms can’t help but mar the plot for anyone who has any historical knowledge of the Regency era whatsoever.  That’s why no matter how much fun the romance between Oliver and Diane is — and it really is fun — A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RAKES can’t help but be a frustrating reading experience.

That said, I enjoyed the book immensely (as a type of alternate history, mind you) because the romance between Oliver and Diane was good, believable, sensual, and well-told.  But everything else about it — literally, every other single thing — doesn’t make sense in an English historical romance set in the early 19th century, much less in the Regency period.  (While the story doesn’t explicitly mention the Regency of King George III, Napoleon’s recent defeat at Waterloo is referenced, which means it’s a Regency.)

That’s why I’ve split the grades.  One is for pure enjoyment; the other is for historical accuracy (or the lack thereof), as follows:

Historical Accuracy: F.
Enjoyment: A.

The overall grade, therefore, is a C. 

— reviewed by Barb

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