I’m back with another historical romance from Lisa Kleypas–and not just any one of them.
For a rather large number of romance readers, Derek Craven, the hero of Dreaming of You, is up there with Mr Darcy, as far as favorite romantic heroes go. Ergo, the book shows up often on “top 100” romance lists.
I, however, came late to Ms Kleypas’ books; this book had been out ten years, if not twelve, when I finally read it, and I had read a lot of romance during that time (including a number of Ms Kleypas’ later novels) so my opinion has always been…a tad less enthusiastic than the norm, shall we say.
As usual, reader beware: there’s explicit sex and cursing on the page.
Dreaming of You, by Lisa Kleypas
This is the second book in a duology; Derek Craven, our hero, was introduced as a rather important, and quite intriguing, secondary character in Then Came You, published a year earlier.
Our heroine, Miss Sara Fielding, is a little country mouse who just happens to be a well known novelist, and who is visiting London to research her next opus. And let me tell you, this background for the heroine creates all sorts of problems for me.
Here’s the (as always hated) blurb from my copy:
A prim, well-bread gentlewoman, Sara Fielding is a writer who puts pen to paper to create dreams. But now curiosity is luring her from the shelter of her country collage into the dangerous world of Derek Craven–handsome, tough and tenacious–and the most exciting man Sara has ever met.
Derek rose from poverty to become the wealthy lord of London’s most exclusive gambling house. And now duty demands that he allow Sara Fielding to enter his perilous realm of ever-shifting fortunes–with her impeccable manners and her infuriating innocence. But there is a hidden strength and sensuality to the lady that captivates him beyond his better judgement. And in this world, where danger lurks behind every shadow, even a proper “mouse” can be transformed into a breathtaking enchantress–and a cynical gambler can be shaken to his core by the power of passion and the promise of love.
The opening scene introduces our main characters pretty effectively. It’s after dusk, in the London rookeries. Derek in his way to his club on a much better part of the city, when he is set upon by a pair of ruffians. Sara is standing nearby, jotting down bits of cant as part of the research she’s undertaking, in order to write a novel set in a gaming hell. Witnessing the scuffle, our intrepid heroine intervenes, by grabbing the pistol she always carries when conducting research, and rescues our injured hero.
As soon as the attackers are taken care of, Sara helps Derek walk the few blocks to the gambling club, where his loyal staff summons a doctor to take care of his wound. Said staff are so grateful to Sara for her timely intervention, and so impressed to meet the author of Mathilda, a very popular novel about a prostitute, that they grant her virtually unlimited access to all the ‘behind the scenes’ areas of the club.
If you read any romance at all, you can see where this is heading.
The novel is entertaining, the writing voice is engaging, there’s some decent research on the period, and–it can never be overstated–the sex is well written.
Derek is an intriguing, properly angsty hero. He was literally born in the gutter–a drainpipe, to be precise. His eventual survival is due entirely to some whores taking pity on the crying infant. A few years later, he’s a chimney sweep. When he grows too big to climb chimneys, he becomes a pickpocket. How does one such as he become one of the richest men in England?
Well, Derek is also incredibly smart, particularly when it comes to numbers–he is a mental calculator and has almost perfect recall. At some point in his teen years, he teaches himself the basics of reading and writing, and becomes a bookmaker. Eventually, through means fair and foul (mostly foul), he knows enough about most of the wealthy and/or important men in London to establish his club. And the cycle continues, as the longer the club operates, the more Derek knows about his clients’ finances and peccadilloes.
Unfortunately, as the novel starts, Derek is afflicted with…ennui. The ultimate rich man’s disease. He is, to the best of his reckoning, about thirty years old, and has already accomplished pretty much everything he set to do. He’s wealthy beyond most people’s imaginations. He consorts with the highest levels of nobility–the Royal family and the Duke of Wellington are name dropped a few times. He has bedded a sizable portion of his clients’ wives.
And he’s bored out of his skull.
Of course, at this point, he’s primed to fall head over heels over our heroine. Then he meets unworldly, mousy, spinsterish Sara Fielding, and he falls like the Colossus of Rhodes.
And right here is where I abandon the “this book is wonderful” train. I just cannot see what about Sara, as actually written, could attract a man like Derek, and the text just doesn’t support either the initial attraction, or the later devotion.
For my money, Sara is pure Mary Sue. Everyone at the club, from Derek’s factotum to the club’s resident whores (the ‘house wenches’), from the footmen to the temperamental (of course) French chef, adore her. They will happily provoke Derek’s ire in order to accommodate all of her requests, no matter how absurd. Why, they’ll even conspire with her so that she may attend one of the clubs infamous assemblies as a guest–even though they well know that the only females usually present are whores and courtesans.
And Sara herself, despite her supposedly proper and gentle upbringing, is all blasé about the potential, and irrevocable, damage to her reputation, should her identity come out. This particular behaviour puts her dead center into TSTL territory. She just blithely goes about doing whatever she pleases, without serious though as to the consequences, and–of course–everyone else goes out of their way to make sure there aren’t any.
This, however is not what irks me the most. No, my annoyance is reserved to the inconsistencies in Sara’s backstory.
We are told, by Sara herself, on page 3, that “Her first two novels, Mathilda and The Beggar, had both been praised for their attention to detail. She would not want her third, as yet untitled, to be faulted for inaccuracies.” And I have to wonder.
Sara is all of twenty five, and she’s published two novels so far. Not only that, but she’s done extensive research–on prostitutes and beggars. I wonder, just wonder, given enough time to do proper research, and considering that at the time things like novels had to be written entirely by hand–manuscripts were just that, handwritten pages–just how young she was when she started interviewing street whores. Seventeen? Eighteen? Are we to believe that a) her parents would let her travel around by herself to conduct her research, b) that her reputation after such behaviour remains pristine, and c) that no ill befell her in the course of such research? What, did she place an add in a newssheet, and invited street whores to tea at a respectable establishment?
Also, if she has done so much research, doesn’t she already have sources for current street slang? Why exactly would she need to stand alone in a street in one of the most dangerous parts of London, to ‘learn’ cant?
There’s more, but you get the gist. Sara is resourceful (she carries a loaded piston in her reticule), but she is also absolutely innocent and naïve and so good, she’s almost saintly–and TSTL.
The novel would not be complete without the ‘mama’s boy’ quasi-fiancé, sorta-kinda waiting for Sara back in her small village, and the scorned woman ‘insane’ villain of the piece, and the bag of clichés is complete.
Yeah, not a particular fan of this one–which truly is a shame, because I like Derek quite a bit, but he really deserved a better heroine.
Dreaming of You gets a 6.50 out of 10, mostly because Sara annoyed me. A lot.