3.5 out of 5 stars
This is one of those books that you really have to be in the mood for — not just that it’s romance, but that there are so many silly, inconceivably ridiculous twists and turns that fall flat (unless you’re perfectly in the mood for really over the top contrivances. The main characters are, themselves, interesting: the prototypical bookworm who runs into tree branches while reading and the charming rake with the tortured past.. They’ve always teased and fought with one another, but it’s during their week of traveling (and sleeping together, initially platonically!?!?) that they fall in love. While there are moments of sparkling dialog, for me, the crazy twists and turns were just too much, and I spent more time feeling exasperated than moved or involved.
Minerva Highwood is a nerdy’s girl’s nerd. She’s got the spectacles, the journals full of copious notes, and she’s discovered an imprint of a footprint that she thinks will get her recognized by the geological society and also win her five hundred guineas (you’re not told it’s (SPOILER) an iguanadon until the footnotes). She doesn’t necessarily need a traveling companion (she’s already decided that she’s going to the conference, and that her life’s work is worth the damage to her reputation), but she approaches Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne, anyhow. Minerva’s afraid that he’s secretly determined to marry her beautiful sister and is determined to protect her beautiful sister.
Now, all of that should already give you a sense that this is going to be a book with lots of twists — Minerva approaching Colin about her plan (that he gets 500 guineas when she wins, but has to stay away from her sister and accompany her), to Colin’s counter-demands (that he can’t sleep unless someone is with him, and so they’ll share a bed, she below the sheets, he on top). They eventually haphazardly decide that they’ll accompany one another and set off with a series of secret identities: different lies for different traveling companions, each more crazy than the last: they’re traveling do-gooder brother and sister who’ve saved one another from unimaginable evils, they’re royalty (like claiming to be the long-lost future Prince and Princess of Crustacea), she’s his volatile, non-English-speaking mistress who’ll attack him in the middle of a cards game.
They’re drawn to each other, and they are actually interesting characters, which is why the farcical asides were annoying to me. I think the best scenes were when they weren’t busy lying to side characters we’d never hear from again, but were instead teasing one another (there’s a running joke that Colin can’t remember her name, and he calls her every somewhat feminine name that starts with an M throughout the book).
The development of their romance feels, in many ways, too quick, not just because their story happens over a week, but because it seems like things keep happening to them, forcing an artificial intensity to their burgeoning romance. Still, it has some nice dialog, some very well-written scenes, and it was good enough for me to finish (just with some eye-rolling at the more farcical plot twists and lies).
Comparison with Other Authors:
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Tessa Dare’s books. I think that there are some great characters, but the humor tends to be on the Julia-Quinn-on-steroids end of puns and farces, and the plot twists don’t always make sense to me, perhaps especially given the time period (like there will be highwaymen, which is okay, done to death and already a little tough to believe… but then they’re always saved in even more contrived ways). The amount of physicality is closer to Stephanie Laurens than Lisa Kleypas, and it’s often very passionate, but again, it does leave you wondering how these women all stayed virgins for so long and are now all suddenly wantons. I’ve yet to find that Tessa Dare novel that I love, love, but I’ve generally enjoyed her enough to keep reading.