An entertaining set-up followed by a confused ending make LADY NOTORIOUS a disappointing read.
Cyn Malloren, army officer and veteran of battles against the French in Canada, is back home in England recovering from fever and desperate for adventure. Fortunately for him, his coach is held up by a highwayman who’s clearly a woman in disguise. At least, it’s clear to him even if no one else can tell because her hair is shorn.
Lady Chastity Ware is a young woman full of bravado who is determined to help her sister Verity and infant nephew escape the clutches of two men who are searching for them. One of those men, Chastity and Verity’s father, has recently ruined Chastity’s reputation, shaved her head, and banished her because she refused to marry the man of his choosing, who happens to be the second man pursuing Verity and her baby.
Chastity’s solution is to steal a coach so Verity and the baby can travel in comfort to Maidenhead, where Verity’s true love lives. When she stops Cyn’s coach, Chastity decides to kidnap him as well.
The first two-third of Lady Notorious is fun and funny. With Chastity dressed as a boy—thinking she’s fooling Cyn all the while falling in love with him—and Cyn dressing as a woman to confuse the hundreds of soldiers out looking for them (Chastity’s father is incredibly powerful), there’s a lot of scope to explore their gender differences. Jo Beverley takes every opportunity to play with them. For example, when Chastity—going by the name Charles—struggles to stop herself from helping her sister and their nursemaid around the house, Cyn thinks “she certainly didn’t look too happy with a passive role. Being a lazy male took a certain amount of practice.”
Cyn gets caught up in the sisters’ plight and takes over planning their journey to Maidenhead. From the beginning, the love between Cyn and Chastity is more physical desire than tender emotion. Cyn does start picturing his future babe at Chastity’s breast within a day of meeting her, and does feel incredibly protective of her early on, but it’s the sexual tension between them that really crackles.
Once that tension is released (at an orgy, no less), there’s still a third of the book left and the couple have to restore Chastity’s reputation and finally escape the two men pursuing the sisters. This is when the story loses its spark.
There’s a very disturbing scene when Chastity’s father orders his henchman to molest her in front of him—not the first time, or even the worst time, he’s sexually humiliated her to gain her obedience. Chastity loses hope and is willing to give Cyn up without a fight. There’s political intrigue behind Chastity and Verity’s problems, and neither Chastity nor Cyn have much involvement in bringing about their own happy ending. That honor is given to Cyn’s oldest brother, the Marquess of Rothgar; in fact, most of the last third feels like it’s primarily there to set up the rest of the Malloren series, with brief introductions of each of Cyn’s siblings and their respective romantic problems.
There’s quite a bit to recommend the book. There were moments when it made me laugh, and I appreciated Jo Beverley’s eye for detail. It’s set in 1761 so focuses on different political events to most historicals. The better parts of Lady Notorious remind me of Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn series, but overall I finished the book disappointed.
Lady Notorious was first released as My Lady Notorious by Penguin Books in 1993. It has recently been re-released by Everlyn in the UK.
Rating: 6 (Satisfactory)
Heat Level: 4 (Hot)
(First posted on The Season)