Charming! I smiled the entire time it took me to read this novel, the battle of the sexes of the first order, set in Regency England.
Max is a rich, powerful, and arrogant aristocrat. When he learns that his younger cousin, twenty-year-old Adrian, is in love with a girl from a gaming house, a painted harpy (in his opinion), and contemplates matrimony, Max is aghast. He would stop at nothing to cut the connection. His first step is to buy off the greedy female.
In Deb, he meets his match. She is not painted, nor greedy, nor a harpy, and she doesn’t contemplate matrimony, at least not to Adrian, who is five years her junior. She is as proud as Max, but unfortunately, her family hit the hard times, and she has no choice but to help her aunt in her gaming establishment.
When Max offers Deb 10,000 pounds to break off her non-existing engagement to Adrian, she flies into indignation. Of course, such a sum would help her aunt pay off all her debts, but how dares that insufferable man insult her so! How dares he presume she is for sale! She wouldn’t take a farthing of his money. She would teach him a lesson.
And so the battle commences, tit for tat. After Deb delivers a shocking blow to Max’s inflated ego, he retaliates, forcing her to exercise her creativity to the utmost for her next move. While they strive to best each other, the readers smile and chuckle and enjoy every page of this funny and inventive tale.
Bookish musing: The previous book I read was a modern paranormal romance, a good book by all accounts, but the comparison was inevitable. With the exception of magic, the male protagonists in both stories could be described by exactly the same words: arrogant, wealthy, powerful, autocratic, absolutely unaccustomed to any resistance. The female protagonists are also similar: spirited, compassionate, fiercely independent, would go to bat for their families. But unlike the hero in the modern story, Max would never resort to cruelty towards Deb or any other woman, no matter how much he dreams of wringing her neck. He is an alpha male, yes, but his politeness and manners are too ingrained – he is a British aristocrat after all – to do anything so base as apply deliberate pain to a female. He is ruthless, biased, sometimes even hateful, but his solutions are smart, not brutal, and he wants to win by his wits, not his fists, either literal or metaphorical. And of course, no lust is involved in Heyer’s story. Everyone knows it’s there, in the background, but it’s resistible. It doesn’t influence neither Deb’s nor Max’s decisions or actions. Both have too much class to submit to their bodily urges.
Perhaps the comparison is unfair: after all Heyer is a classic. Her novels have been popular since 1921 and are still in print. I’m just saying: I definitely prefer Georgette Heyer’s approach. Maybe I’m too old-fashioned.