I know it’s probably a little weird to review a book this old (originally published in 1994), but two things: 1. I own weird; 2. I’m just reviewing what I read, basically. And I’m catching up on the genre. I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that I’ve only been reading romance for about two years, having previously been one of those horrible snobs about the genre. And even then I called myself a feminist… sigh. <guilt>
So, I don’t normally read historical fiction because I find it either anachronistic or sexist (and often racist, too), which annoys me. A feminist friend of mine who reads it has told me that usually good authors compromise a bit on both to make it work reasonably well. I just hadn’t encountered this kind, I guess. At one of the sessions I went to at RT this year (one about creating strong heroines), they mentioned Derek Craven as the most appealing hero in all of romance. The entire panel sighed together over him, so I figured I’d check the book out.
And I did like it. The premise is that a successful novelist named Sara Fielding is writing a new book set partially in a gambling club and she goes to London to do research. There she stumbles across a scuffle in the street which turns out to be Derek Craven, the legendary gambling club owner, getting his faced slashed for spurning one of his many women. Sara shoots one of the assailants and she and Derek abscond to his club, where he gets patched up. Derek himself wants to keep her out, but one of his top employees, Mr. Worthy, takes a (reasonably innocent) shine to her and allows her to hang out at the club during the day to mingle with the staff for her research. All the staff—and that includes the club’s prostitutes, of course—adore her and admire her work, even if there is some humorous confusion about her most well-known protagonist, Mathilda.
Derek has no patience for Sara because he feels an unfamiliar pull toward her and he doesn’t see the need for her to be in her club all the time. So he forbids her from going there. But Sara’s a bit of a stubborn mule and finds a way to continue her research. They encounter each other again and finally Derek does effectively ban her from the club, and she goes back to her village and her near-fiancé. But she’s a changed woman and things don’t go swimmingly. Eventually she and Derek run into each other again after a meddling friend of his arranges it, and sparks fly.
There are the requisite Derek-saves-Sara scenes (two of them). But then there are also a couple scenes where Sara does the rescuing—one of Derek and one of herself. Those two are a little sloppy on her part, but I think it makes it more believable, and I bought in. I do find Derek himself a little more problematic, though. I could believe that he was a very troubled guy, based on his very rough beginnings. He was born to—and abandoned by—a prostitute and then raised by others “in the rookery.” I had to look this up—slums, basically. Anyway, Derek. He’s troubled and of course he’s a real guy, so he’s got a long line of women he’s slept with. In his case, he prefers married upper class women. You’d think this would get him in trouble with the husbands, but it’s one of the women who causes him the most difficulties. But when he meets Sara, he starts falling in love for the first time and he resists powerfully. I can buy this, and I can buy his finally yielding to it and being willing to change to a certain degree to be with her. The issue I have is one I have with most formerly-philandering alphas—I have a hard time believing he’s not going to step out on her eventually, even if he continues to love her.
But I guess that’s just my cynicism coming through. If it weren’t for that specific reservation, I’d have none with the book. I did enjoy it and I will likely try another one of Kleypas’s books.