Lord Perfect, by Loretta Chase

>> Friday, April 14, 2006

book cover
Poor Loretta Chase must specialize in pissing off people in her publisher's cover department. Just look at the cover of her latest, Lord Perfect. It's almost as bad as the one on Lord of Scoundrels. But the people I really pity are those who are put off by those awful covers, because they're missing some of the best romance novels ever written.

Tall, dark, and handsome, the heir to the Earl of Hargate, Benedict Carsington, is known for his impeccable manners and good breeding. Benedict knows all the rules and has no trouble following them--until Bathsheba Wingate enters his life. Now, the two must embark on a rescue mission that puts them in dangerous, intimate proximity. Fortunately, Benedict is in perfect control--despite his mad desire to break all the rules. Perfect control. Really.
I've repeated it ad nauseam: Lord of Scoundrels is my favourite romance novel, so in a way, every new Loretta Chase novel is fated to be compared to it. As much as I've loved some of her other books, like Miss Wonderful, Mr. Impossible, Captives of the Night and The Last Hellion, they pale in comparison with LOS. Lord Perfect pales next to it, too, but only very, very slightly. It's the second 2006 book to get a straight A from me, and it's only April. Seems this will be a great reading year!

Bathsheba Wingate and Benedict Carsington, Lord Rathbourne couldn't be more different, at first sight. While Bathsheba is part of the "Dreadful" branch of the DeLucey family, a branch noted for being particularly unscrupulous and disreputable, Benedict has an absolutely spotless reputation and is respected by all. When they meet at a museum, after Bathsheba's daughter, Olivia, and Peregrine, Benedict's godson, get into a bit of a fight, there is an immediate attraction, but as soon as they realize who the other is, each realizes nothing could ever come from it.

Or, at least, that's their intention, because Benedict can't seem to stay away from her, in spite of all his resolutions, and neither can Bathsheba remain withdrawn from him, in spite of hers. And when Olivia and Peregrine take off together in a treasure hunt, they're thrown even closer together, as they go after their charges.

Oh, how I adored the relationship between Bathsheba and Benedict! From the beginning, you see that they are just perfect for each other, and they both recognize it, but try to stay apart, because no matter how honourable they both know Bathsheba to be, her reputation is just too ruinous. But it's not so easy, because even though Benedict is always oh-so-proper and perfect, he just can't control himself when he's with Bathsheba, and I loved to see how she made him lose it without even trying! And his inner monologue when his desire for her just overcame him was incredibly funny and tender and sexy. These were some of my favourite scenes.

There's no external "danger" conflict here. This is just a road romance, with Benedict and Bathsheba going after the children, but not really all that worried about them. The main conflict is basically internal, with Benedict struggling between what he wants and what his life's work demands, and Bathsheba refusing to "ruin" the life of the man she loves. I loved how Chase dealt with those conflicts. It so easily could have irritated me, if, for instance, Bathsheba had been a martyr about it, or if I had felt Benedict was too in love with his position and refused to even consider to do anything that might compromise it.

But no, Chase avoided any of those pitfalls, and created a story I loved. Bathsheba was just so matter-of-fact about it. She did resent the way people seemed to despise her without her having done anything to deserve it, but well, she was philosophical about it. It was the way it was, and she refused to beat her head against the wall and fight an impossible fight. As for Benedict, I liked how Chase showed why it was so important for him not to lose his reputation (his work in Parliament really is important to him), but though he doesn't give in immediately (which underlines the fact that it is important to him), it's finally very clear that Bathsheba is much more important to him than anything else, and his initial hesitation makes his determination to make a sacrifice even more heartwarming. Knowing him as she knows him, it also makes sense that Bathsheba won't want him to make this huge sacrifice for her.

The only tiny problem I had with the story was with the resolution, with the way the problem of Bathsheba's reputation is overcome. I mean, it was fun and ingenious, but I don't know if I really buy it. It felt a bit too easy to me, I guess.

Other than that, it's all wonderful. I'm not the hugest fan of children in romance novels, but Peregrine and Olivia were just priceless. I loved, loved, loved their scenes, and Olivia's letters? Hilarious. They were just really well-rounded characters, fascinating mirrors of what Benedict and Bathsheba might have been.

Oh, and the writing style wass just delightful. I love Chase's humour, which shows through not just in her funny scenes, but in the very way she describes things and shows us what her characters are thinking. Benedict's inner monologues that I mentioned above are a wonderful example. They're sweet and hot and emotional and also very funny.

I'm sure tens of reviewers at amazon have used this line, but it needs to be said: Lord Perfect really is perfect! ;-)


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