Reading Lady Derring Takes a Lover is like starting a new relationship. Everything is super awesome and wrapped in a blissful glow but then a few weeks pass and you start to notice that maybe your hot new date has some annoying habits, but that’s OK, because no one is perfect. What I’m saying here is that I was passionately in love with this book, but realized later that it’s not actually perfect, but still good. I mean yeah, fine, maybe sometimes it’s late for a date but it it still shows up with flowers so I’m sticking with it.
Our story begins when Lady Delilah Derring’s husband dies and she discovers that he left no money. She doesn’t even own the clothes she is wearing, although for reasons Delilah cannot fathom, she was bequeathed a building at the docks. She goes to visit her late husband’s solicitor and encounters her late husband’s mistress there, in a sublimely awkward scene.
Delilah was not madly in love with her husband but she did not know that he had a mistress and she’s quite annoyed about it. However, it is not lost on her that the mistress, who is called Angelique Breedlove (not her real name) seems to know how survival works. Delilah and her last remaining employee, Dot, go to a tavern, find Angelique, and many glasses of sherry later the slightly unsteady trio examines Delilah’s building and declares it fit to be a boarding house. Armed with a new potential source of income, the women proceed to clean the place, win Delilah’s cook back, and open the highly respectable “Grand Palace on the Thames.”
Honestly, this is not a book that needs to be a romance. The romance is fine, and I’ll get to that, but who needs some man cluttering things up when we have Delilah, Dot, and Angelique? Delilah and Angelique don’t always get along perfectly. At first, this disappointed me, but the more it went on the more I liked it. They just get on each other’s nerves sometimes, and that’s realistic considering that they embarked on this project not after years of fast friendship but rather after one night of heavy drinking. They don’t let their spats get in the way of business and overall they seem to realize that their differences complement each other.
Delilah’s vision is to create a home for people, and she and Angelique screen guests with a view towards not only who can pay but who will contribute to this vision. Guests are required to dine together and socialize together at least four times a week, and there is a swear jar. The guests include two very shy sisters who rarely talk, a salesman who just wants a home and who had better freaking well get his own match at some point in the series or I will riot, and a cranky naval Captain named Tristan Hardy, who is trying to find a smuggler but who finds Delilah instead.
Here’s Captain Hardy trying to get Delilah to rent him a room:
“Now that I know a bit more about what sort of establishment this is–and it does sound like a fine establishment–would you mind telling me a bit more about the rules?”
She looked relieved. “They’re very simple, really. We expect our male guests to behave like gentlemen in the presence of ladies. Rough language, drinking, spitting, or smoking will not be tolerated in the drawing room when ladies are present, and will be fined one pence per word. We’ve a jar, you see.”
“A jar.” He said this with every evidence of fascination.
“But we also have a withdrawing room for gentlemen, in which they can unleash their baser impulses in case the effort of restraint becomes too much to bear.”
Lady Derring was very dry.
“What a relief to hear. Tethering instincts wears a devil out.”
He was rewarded with a smile, one of delightful slow, crooked affairs, as if she just couldn’t help herself, and he, for a moment, could not have formed words for admiring it.
Tristan is a super angsty but endlessly sarcastic character who cannot fail to generate hilarity wherever he goes. His very aversion to hilarity makes it inevitable. His wit is so dry that most people don’t even catch it, although Delilah, also a master of the deadpan, most certainly does. Delilah does not know that Tristan has taken a room at her boarding house because he thinks it’s a smuggling den. Tristan cannot figure out why all clues have led him to what appears to be a very respectable house with a curfew and a swear jar.
I’m giving this book a B- because the romance is the weakest part of the story, there’s a plot twist that I disliked immensely, and because there’s a brief (not graphic) attempted rape which is completely and totally unnecessary. I liked the romance in this book, but I find I have little to say about it. Since this story is marketed as a Romance Novel, I feel like I should have more to say than, “Don’t worry, the romance doesn’t break up the boarding house found family which is what I really care about.” And as for the twist, I must admit that I did not see it coming, but I also found it to be rather depressing and in poor taste. I had gotten so interested in people as they presented themselves to be that it was a sad let down when some characters turn out to be other than they first appeared.
Yet I plan on reading this book again because of the community and the humor, not to mention the feminism (the book abounds in strong women who want to be independent and respected). For me, the draw of the book, and what makes it memorable, is the creation of a family, from that first horrible meeting of widow and mistress, to a home that provides the women with independence and the boarders with a sense of comfort, safety, and respect.