Secrets of a Proper Countess
by Lecia Cornwall
Heat Level: 4
Well, I may as well go and jump off a bridge now. As some of you know, I write a bit of romance now and then, and I am hoping someday to be a “real” author. But Lecia Cornwall’s debut novel, Secrets of a Proper Countess, has thrown me into despair. I’ve been drowning my sorrows in white wine and dark chocolate ever since I finished it.
Because, ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Cornwell has just set the standard for a debut historical romance novel. She brings a fresh new voice to the Haute Ton we all know and love without ever abandoning believability and historical context. Her language is lovely, her characters well-rounded, and her plot, though a bit convoluted, kept me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep. You can now blame the bags under my eyes on Lady Isobel and the Marquess of Blackwood.
Lady Isobel is a prim, proper, very straitlaced Countess who never, ever does anything scandalous. She simply has too much to lose for her to play the merry widow and live as she pleases — until one fateful evening when her passionate nature leads her to don a disguise and seek a few moment’s pleasure with the notorious Marquess of Blackwood, Phineas Archer.
As you would expect in a romance novel, Phineas just cannot forget the lovely stranger, and he wanders London’s ballrooms and theatres, searching for her. Of course, the one person he doesn’t suspect is the dowdy and inhibited Lady Isobel Maitland. Ms. Cornwall does a nice job with Lord Blackwell’s confusion and denial as he comes to realize that Isobel is in fact the temptress he seeks.
And of course, Lady Isobel, upon meeting Lord Blackwell under these more proper circumstances, surrenders herself to him and they live H.E.A., right? Nope. You see, there is another person in this story, whose happiness matters more to Isobel than anything in the world – the current Earl of Westlake, her young son. It was so refreshing to see a heroine who, just like a real person, has motives and desires beyond the I-wanna-fall-in-love-with-a-hero that drives so many stories. Isobel has to struggle with the conflict between what she needs to do and what she wants to do.
Blackwood is a charmer, a rake in the very best sense of the words, but like Isobel, he wears a disguise. Behind the rascal reputation lies a man who has devoted himself to the service of his country. In protecting her son, Lady Isobel crosses paths with some particularly nasty traitors, and only Blackwood can rescue her. Although you have to give Isobel credit – she is not one to sit around and wring her hands while she waits for her hero to charge in and save the day. I love a heroine with some backbone!
The last bit of the story, with traitors and a plot to restore the French monarchy, got a bit intricate for me, but by that point it didn’t really matter. I liked Isobel and Phineas enough that I was on board til their final embrace. At which time, after many delays and lots of anxiety, they reach the Happy Ever After they deserve.
I’m glad that Ms. Cornwall included a healthy batch of friends and relatives for Isobel and Phineas, because I want to spend a lot more time in her world.