>> Monday, November 30, 2009
TITLE: Your Scandalous Ways
AUTHOR: Loretta Chase
SETTING: 19th century Venice
SERIES: Not really, although it's part of Chase's Fallen Women books
REASON FOR READING: Autobuy author
James Cordier is all blue blood and entirely dangerous. He's a master of disguise, a brilliant thief, a first-class lover-all for King and Country-and, by gad, he's so weary of it. His last mission is to "acquire" a packet of incriminating letters from one notorious woman. Then he can return to London and meet sweet-natured heiresses-not adventuresses and fallen women.James Cordier is a spy working for the English government. Over the years, he's become more and more weary of his work, and he longs to go back to England and spend the rest of his life being normal and boring. But before he can retire, he must complete a last mission: to get a bunch of letters which are proof of treason by an English nobleman.
Francesca Bonnard has weathered heartbreak, scorn, and scandal. She's independent, happy, and definitely fallen; and she's learned that "gentlemen" are more trouble than they're worth. She can also see that her wildly attractive new neighbor is bad news.
But as bad as James is, there are others far worse also searching for Francesca's letters. And suddenly nothing is simple-especially the nearly incendiary chemistry between the two most jaded, sinful souls in Europe. And just as suddenly, risking everything may be worth the prize.
These letters are suspected to be held by the man's ex-wife, whom he divorced a few years earlier. Francesca Bonnard moved to Venice after the scandalous divorce which left her ruined and became a successful and sophisticated courtesan. When a mysterious gentleman appears in her life and begins to pursue her, Francesca just knows he's up to no good -but can't resist sparring with him, all the same.
I always have sky-high expectations when I start a Loretta Chase, and she never disappoints. This was a beautiful book, with fascinating, excellently drawn characters engaged in a romance that kept me turning the pages. And it was written in Chase's trademark style, which infuses the whole story with humour and wit.
Let us be clear: Francesca is a real courtesan. She's not pretending to be one, James is not her first client and she hasn't even had only one client (whom she actually was in love with, of course) in her whole career. Yes, she's selective and can afford to choose, but she still has had sex with men for money, and she's not eaten up by guilt about it.
I just loved Francesca's pragmatism. Given her choices after what her husband did to her, she chose what was best for her and wasted no time regretting what could have been. And this pragmatism extends to her not automatically being on James side when she finds out what he's aiming to do (England as a whole hasn't treated particularly well, so why should she move a finger to help?), which I really appreciated. I also liked that she wasn't above being a little bit petty and taking revenge on her ex by sending him those letters rubbing in his face what she's doing. I just find it easier to like a character (especially the heroine, for some reason) when she has some flaws.
James is a really good character as well. I especially appreciated his attitude to Francesca's occupation. James hasn't been above sleeping with his targets to get the information he needs, and there's no hypocritical condemnation of Francesca for doing pretty much the same thing, only for survival, rather than a mission. James is quite aware of the fact that he's just as much of a whore as Francesca is.
And something else I enjoyed was the way Chase dealt with James being a gentleman spy. We all know that being a spy was considered something a bit disreputable, not quite honourable at the time this book is set. Most books with gentlemen spies take the view that this is a silly thing to think, and all the characters involved think it's silly as well, and the issue is completely ignored. Not completely so here: being a spy has definitely had an effect on James. He's weary of it, of doing things he knows are necessary and yet that part of him still feels are dishonourable, especially because he gets a thrill out of them all the same.
The romance between James and Francesca is absolutely fantastic. It's an adversarial relationship that they have, but they're so well-matched that this only adds to their enjoyment of each other. If one wins one bout, then the other will win the next, and there are no hard feelings. I just loved that ice-cold, calculating spy James quite loses his cool when it comes to Francesca, and that Miss Pragmatic is not much better when it comes to James.
YSW was a straight A for the first, say, two thirds of the book, but near the end, there was a slight shift in focus to the letters and efforts by different parties to get them, and that wasn't particularly interesting to me. This meant that the book ended up in B+ territory, a very strong B+, but still.
MY GRADE: A B+.