The Lady's Secret, by Joanna Chambers

>> Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TITLE: The Lady's Secret
AUTHOR: Joanna Chambers

PAGES: 372
PUBLISHER: Carina Press

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance

Former actress Georgiana Knight always believed she and her brother were illegitimate—until they learn their parents were married, making them heirs to a great estate. To prove their claim, Georgy needs to find evidence of their union by infiltrating a ton house party as valet to Lord Nathaniel Harland. Though masquerading as a boy is a challenge, it pales in comparison to sharing such intimate quarters with the handsome, beguiling nobleman.

Nathan is also unsettled by Georgy's presence. First intrigued by his unusual valet, he's even more captivated when he discovers Georgy's charade. The desire the marriage-shy earl feels for his enigmatic employee has him hoping for much more than a master-servant relationship...

But will Nathan still want Georgy when he learns who she truly is? Or will their future be destroyed by someone who would do anything to prevent Georgy from uncovering the truth?
Georgiana Knight and her brother Harry grew up in the theatre world. Their father was a nobleman who basically ran away from home to be with their actress mother. They always assumed they were illegitimate, but they have recently discovered that there is a possibility that their parents had got married in secret. That would make Harry the heir to a title and make their lives much easier than the constant work of running a theatre, even a sucessful one.

As the book starts, Harry is spending all of his time travelling around the country, trying to find the parrish where their parents were married. Georgy is doubtful that this will go anywhere, so she decides to take the bull by its horns and search the home of the current holder of the title, the Earl of Dunsmore. How to get into his house, though?

An opportunity presents itself when Georgy finds out that Nathaniel, the Earl of Harland, needs a valet. He's due to go to Dunsmore's for a house party, and obviously, one of his servants would have the chance to do a bit of skulking about. Georgy is quite a good actress and she fancies her chances. It turns out, however, that while she's able to play a very convincing man, it's her increasing attraction to Harland that could be her downfall.

The first half of the book was my favourite, with Nathan and Georgy in close confines, and the intensity ratcheting higher and higher. I liked how Chambers played with the very cliched "Ick, I'm getting turned on by a man" reaction on the part of the hero. It's much more subtle (and satisfying) than that. And I thought Nathan becomes aware of the truth at exactly the right time, and this doesn't cut into the sexual tension in the least. In fact, it brings it even higher, because Nathan now doesn't just lust after Georgy, he's fascinated by her. He takes the opportunity afforded by their roles to put her under the microscope and try to understand who this strange woman is.

This part wasn't perfect, however. I missed not seeing the first few contacts between Nathan and Georgy as master and valet. We skip the first week or so, and by the time we rejoin them, Georgy has already developed a strong lust for Nathan. It would have been interesting to see it develop, I think it would have made me feel I knew her better.

And precisely because I felt I didn't know Georgy as much as I would have wanted, I never really got a feeling for what drives her. She's taking massive risks looking for the marriage certificate. Why? There are some indications when she observes how the entire household gravitates around Nathan that she resents the servant role a bit, and that there is some healthy envy for all Nathan has, but did she feel the same way before, while working in the theatre? I didn't get the feeling she did. I guess I found what I saw of her so interesting, that I wanted to know more.

The suspense subplot (there's someone who's not happy to let Georgy and Harry find the information they seek) moves to the forefront in the second half, and it all becomes a lot less interesting, as this element is pretty tedious. I still liked elements of this second half, especially Nathan coming to terms with what his feelings for Georgy are exactly, and what that means in terms of what he wants to do with his life. Still, while I read the first half in one big gulp, I put the book down several times while I passed the halfway mark. It wasn't just the suspense, even the romance wasn't as great as the first half promised. The relationship felt like it turned into something a bit more typical here, something I'd read already, while when Georgy was playing valet, they were two characters whose romance I'd never read before.

Still, a good debut. And on that note, I should say I really liked the writing. It's not that it's obtrusive, I just tend to pay more attention to it when it's a debut author. It was impressively smooth, and I wouldn't have guessed it was Chambers' first book at all.



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