Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: A Lady Without a Lord by Bliss Bennet

In keeping with my Valentine's Day tradition, my February reads were all romance and all wonderful! I had become jaded with romance off-late, so I was delighted to rediscover my love for romance. I read Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas, My American Duchess by Eloisa James, A Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran, and A Lady Without a Lord by Bliss Bennet.

Bennet may be a fledgling author but her book stands stalwart with the others on that list. I was very much taken with her assured writing, complex and unusual characterization, and verve for storytelling, all highlights of a much more experienced author.

Harriot "Harry" Atherton is the steward's daughter at the Saybrook estate in Lindsey, Lincolnshire. In reality, she's keeping the account books in light of her father's increasingly poor grasp of reality. Her father refuses to acknowledge his growing disability and his growing reliance on Harry, and Harry struggles with respecting her father and his decisions while trying to circumvent and prevent disasters.

So she's had to deal with repairing tenant roofs, supervising the sheep shearing, negotiating the vehement opposition to the annual village fête by Reverend Strickland of Oldfield and Sir John Mather, and other such matters routinely overseen by a steward.

Enter one Theodosius "Theo" Pennington, the new Viscount Saybrook, a self-professed libertine and childhood playmate of Harry's. A stolen kiss from him in their teens and his rakish reputation has made her wary of him. She cannot afford to fall under his spell, lest he discover her father's true condition that she is at pains to disguise.

Theo's finally returned to Lincolnshire after discovering that he's been fleeced out of his sister's dowry. Something dodgy is going on at his estate and he is determined to get to the bottom of it and recover the money. However, this course of action is a torture for Theo for he has struggled with basic mathematics his whole life. Labeled lazy and useless since his childhood — "did he not always fail the people for whom he cared?" — he lived up to these slurs in his young adulthood by indulging in dissipation. Now, however, despite his disability, he has to solve the mystery of the missing money.

He is determined to recover the money not just to give what he owes to his sister, but also to prove to her and to himself that he can act responsibly, he can manage his estate and take care of his tenants, and he can behave in a "to the manor born" manner. So there's a lot riding on those twelve thousand pounds.

As Theo and Harry struggle to reconcile their past reputations and current roles, not to mention the suspicion of her father for the stolen money, neither can deny the growing attraction between them.

While the romance is perforce the central thrust of the story, the pacing and scattering of the clues of the mystery are also well done. I especially liked the historical details Bennet chooses: The heavy odor of a poorly drawing chimney hung upon Theo....

This book is also a coming of age story for Theo as he figures out how to leverage his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses in order to become an effective landowner and viscount.

Theo closed his eyes for a moment, taken aback by her unexpected praise. True, he might be a dunce when it came to anything concerning numbers, but he did have other skills, other strengths. If he called on the ones he had, instead of continually berating himself for the one he lacked, might he prove himself worthy of the responsibilities that had descended upon him after his father's death?

Bennet has done a superb job of showing the progression of Alzheimer's disease and the complexities of dyscalculia disorder in an era when their causes and diagnoses were unknown. Both Mr. Atherton and Theo present their difficulties in a manner that would be instantly recognizable today but is entirely historically appropriate in the context of the story.

If this is a new-to-you author, please do not hesitate to pick up A Lady Without a Lord.

Please note: I was given an ARC of this book by the author.