The Chick: Lady Serena, a.k.a. "The Siren," a.k.a. "The Thorn." A former courtesan, her life's work is bound up in the hotel she now owns - until a close friend suddenly betrays her.The Rub: She may not want to admit it, but she'll need help to retain control of her hotel - and who better than the random dude who was indirectly responsible for her getting the hotel in the first place?Dream Casting: Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery.
The Dude: Solomon Hathaway. Years ago, he recklessly gave away his entire quarterly allowance to a prostitute. Now he needs her help in recovering some stolen earrings.
The Rub: In the process, he realizes he's in love with her - but how can he convince her that he's the real deal?Dream Casting: Tom Hiddleston.
The Plot (some plot spoilers):
In the Past...
Serena: Do you want me to take your virginity?
Solomon: No thank you! HERE HAVE SOME FREE MONEY!
Solomon: Will you help me find some stolen earrings?
Serena: Sure! No problem!
Rene, Marquis de Sacreval and Dirty French Spy: Bonjour! I've faked our marriage so I can steal your hotel for nefarious and not-to-be-spoken-of reasons!
Serena: THE HELL YOU ARE. I WILL TAKE YOU DOWN.
Solomon: And I'll help!
Serena: Wait, what?
Solomon: And I'll design pretty dresses for you! And stick up for you to your dad! And help uncover a secret network of spies and traitors for you! And step on the toes of men who are rude to you! And make you hot chocolate! And massage your feet!
Serena: HOW DOES SOMEONE AS NICE AS YOU PHYSICALLY EXIST?
Rene: OMG, does he have a brother?
Solomon: I do but he's dead and straight!
Elijah (Dead Brother): I'm not and I'm really not!
Rene: HOORAY! *plot foiled*
Solomon and Serena: HOORAY!
Romance Convention Checklist
1 French Frenemy
2 Stolen Earrings
1 Suspicious Fire
1 Very Bad Parent
1 Fortuitous Use of Hydrochloric Acid
1 Regency-Era Gay Bar
1 Faked Death
Several Sexy Spies
1 (Gay!) Secondary Romance (Between Sexy Spies)
The Word: Oh, Rose Lerner, you've done it again!
Rose Lerner SPLASHED (splashed, I tell you!) onto the Romance scene waaaaay back in 2010 with her debut novel, In For A Penny. I credit The Booksmugglers for pointing me and Rose Lerner in our respective directions, because it was a match made in heaven. In For a Penny surprised and delighted me with how it managed to create a sincere, lovely romance between complex characters without compromising the realism of the historical setting.
Rose Lerner takes the sophomore slump out to dinner and punches it in the face with A Lily Among Thorns, her long-awaited (and much-delayed) second book.
Lady Serena, prodigal daughter of a lord, used to be a whore, until a chance encounter with a nervous young man left her one hundred and twenty-five pounds richer. Serena turned that miracle money into an independent career as a successful courtesan, and then ultimately used those proceeds to purchase a sophisticated hotel, naming it the Ravenshaw Arms. Running the hotel is her joy and her pride and the last vestige of passion she allows herself.
So when she unexpectedly meets her mysterious benefactor when he asks for her help in locating some stolen earrings (her lady-of-the-night past left her with a bevy of useful underworld contacts), she sees it as the perfect way to repay his generosity without involving any unnecessary emotion.
Solomon Hathaway, a talented tailor, chemist, and dyer, has no idea this woman is the same prostitute to whom he recklessly gave his entire quarterly allowance so many years before - but he is drawn to her all the same.
Trouble arises in the form of Rene, the marquis of Sacreval, a dashing French aristocrat and Serena's business partner. Returning unexpectedly from the continent, he offers to buy out Serena's share in the Arms - but when she refuses, he produces expertly forged marriage lines that will be permit him, as her (il)legal husband, to take the Arms from her whether she wants to or not.
To Serena's surprise, Solomon offers to help her find a way to regain control of the Arms, and both find themselves drawn into a conspiracy involving French spies, English traitors, stolen rubies, secret doors, 19th-century gay bars, disapproving uncles, and expertly-tailored gowns.
One of the greatest joys in this book is that the hero and heroine don't begin the story with a reason to hate each other. A lot of other romances (even good ones), incite conflict right away by immediately putting the protagonists on opposite sides of a quarrel or problem. It's not necessarily a bad plot device, but it's used so frequently that it's just such a relief when we don't have romantic protagonists who immediately harbour the worst possible assumptions about each other.
Both Solomon and Serena have been shaped by being torn between two worlds. Serena was born an aristocrat, but sacrificed that status when she took on the world's oldest profession. She now uses underworld connections to survive in a world where a large number of the male haute ton can claim a "personal" connection to her. Solomon, meanwhile, is the offspring of an aristocratic woman who ran away with a Latin tutor. He has a Cambridge education from his disapproving Viscount uncle but prefers to work in trade with his (more lovingly disapproving) tailor uncle. In both cases, he's stuck somewhere in the middle.
But they both deal with such struggles differently, which is where their wonderful arguments and misunderstandings and interactions spring from. Righteous Beta Heroes and Dirty Heroines with Dirty Dealin's are my crack. Serena is such a magnificent heroine. Independent and strong-willed but practical - who believes she is cold and passionless until she meets the hero.
And what a hero! Solomon Hathaway is a prince among men. A prince among heroes! He cooks, he sews, he makes hot chocolate, he knows his way around a vial of hydrochloric acid, he has impeccable fashion sense, he's sweet and lovely and all that is good. He is wonderful. But he does have issues - he's only recently recovered from losing a twin brother in the war, the dashing and charming brother he always subconsciously compared himself to. And because of his mixed-class parentage he's always on the wrong side of someone's opinion - the aristos sneer that he's a commoner, and the plebs don't take him seriously.
The plot itself is darker and twistier than In For a Penny, but then again, I've always preferred those types of stories. Serena is such an evasive, closed-off, damaged character - who runs an inn that employs similarly evasive, closed-off and damaged characters. We learn new things about her in drip and drabs, because even from her point of view, she's close-mouthed. She's been used and abandoned by a lot of men in her day, which is why it takes a special one to win her heart - and even then, it take a good, long, delicious while to crack her shell.
But good things come to those who wait - and it's the same for Rose Lerner fans. We waited - and in the end, we were rewarded. While I don't particularly want to wait two years for her next book, I will if I have to.