Lady Sophia’s Lover, by Lisa Kleypas

21 Feb
Original cover or Lady Sophia's Lover, with a stepback; on the cover, a white woman wearing a pink dress, with a man standing behind her, his bare arm around her shoulders.

In for a penny, yadda yadda, here’s another re-read. The second in the Bow Street Runners trilogy, we finally learn more about Sir Ross Cannon, the magistrate and leader of the Runners. Not coincidentally, it sets up the last book in the trilogy.

Beware of quite a bit of graphic sex, explicit language, stillbirth, maternal death, and references to child sexual abuse.

Lady Sophia’s Lover, by Lisa Kleypas

Set in the late Regency, this novel, on top of being fairly long at over 375 pages, spanning a few months and with a number of plot threads, is an interesting mix of unusual elements and well-worn tropes.

  • Our hero is a widowed baronet who has devoted every waking moment since the loss of his wife and unborn babe, to building the Bow Street Runners into the best police force in Britain, forsaking all hopes for a personal life of any kind.
  • Our heroine is the orphan daughter of an impoverished viscount, and, after the death of her younger brother, the last of her name.
  • The book starts when she talks her way into his office to apply to become his assistant at Bow Street, and admits to him that she can’t provide character references, as she had taken a lover and was turned out when the affair came to light.
  • One of the few oldish romances where the heroine is close to thirty, very much a established spinster rather than just “past the first bloom”, and while the hero is about ten years older, the age gap feels generally narrower.
  • Evil younger brothers, past connections, secrets, lies, and revenge.

Here’s the blurb:

They call him the Monk of Bow Street

Sir Ross Cannon, magistrate and head of the Bow Street Runners, has spent the past few years apprehending the most dangerous criminals in London. He’s driven and disciplined, a man to be feared. His personal needs have been set aside, his days and nights consumed by the determined pursuit of justice.

Until Lady Sophia Sydney, a beautiful young woman with a tarnished past, comes to ask for employment. Ross knows a woman like Sophia doesn’t belong in the rough-and-tumble world of Bow Street, but he gives in to temptation and hires her as his assistant. Day by day the attraction between them grows, until neither of them can ignore the power of their mutual desire.

But Sophia has a secret . . . and when Ross discovers the tragic link between their pasts, any chance of being with him will vanish. All they have are a few nights of pleasure, before Sophia will be forced to leave the man she’s fallen hopelessly in love with. 

What she doesn’t count on is how much Ross is willing to risk for the sake of a woman who’s awakened his heart.

Sophia starts off being pretty damned competent and with a fair bit of agency. Though of noble enough birth, her parents early death had basically left her and her brother at the mercy of the parish, and she eventually ended up the unpaid maid-of-all-work for an also poor elderly relative.

After a gentleman of her class seduces, then betrays her; when she finds herself on the street and with nothing to lose, all her grief coalesces into a plan for revenge: she’ll ruin Sir Ross Cannon, the man she holds responsible for the death of her brother a decade prior.

Of course, what happens is that she falls in love with Ross, who is in fact a decent man who cares about people and not just the ‘cases’, and Sophia grows ever more conflicted about carrying out her plan.

Ross is a good man. We do not spend as much time in his head as we do Sophia’s, but there are enough scenes from his point of view to plant him firmly in the “yes, hero material” territory. It’s not just that he’s honorable, but that he’s also kind. Over the course of his tenure as magistrate, he’s done what he can to use the law to help rather than to only punish.

Mind you, his initial reaction to meeting Sophia, who is asking to work for him, is to have a hard-on of such magnitude, he sits at his desk to hide it. Which, you know. Really?

Of course, then he proves his character, and his restraint, to both the reader and his heroine over the course of weeks. And that one line sets up the second half of the book, where there’s quite a bit of sex. I won’t say that there’s too much sex, because not only are many of those scenes key points for the story, but because their sheer number also shows a lot about the characters and their relationship.

And, in a world of too much really badly written sex, it bears repeating that the sex here is written well; body parts are mostly named by their proper names, people feel and do things that real people do. There’s exploration, and consent is asked and given, and it’s generally lovely.

There is a concurrent plotline pertaining Ross’ work as a magistrate and head of the Bow Street Runners, and some minor drama involving his younger brother (who’s a cad and a spoiled man-child in his thirties), along with a few twists that manage to be entertaining and internally consistent, and even on a re-read managed to put my heart in my throat.

And I liked how the fact that Sophia was noble-born is used to balance the fact that hey, she also worked as a literal servant for over a decade; there’s some lip service to people being more than what they’re born to, but it’s also a practical way out of making the marriage acceptable to the people who could make Ross’s professional life hell.

I enjoyed it a lot twenty years ago, and a fair bit this time around, but again, the flaws in the writing jump out at me now in a way they didn’t before.

Specifically, one thing that annoys me about Sophia is that her agency diminishes as the book progresses; she spends far too much time musing whether she should martyr herself on the altar of…something or other. It changes.

Ross, on the other hand, is the kind of hero who, having a tanker-load of principles, will assume that if the person he loves commits a crime, there are reasons; he’s not going to be happy about it, but he’ll show up ready to help clean up the mess. 1 (It’s not really his fault that the way he does reeks of Deux Ex Machina and is the only plot point that’s not internally consistent.)

Another thing that brought my rating down is a lecture from Sophia to Ross, regarding the trauma of losing his first wife and unborn child; at one point she tells him that his fear dishonors his late wife and other stuff that honestly, just.

I don’t expect a therapist to vet fiction stories, but I found the way Ross’ trauma was handled to be pretty insensitive, so.

Lady Sophia’s Lover get 8.25 out of 10

* * * *

A note: I know full well that this is just me being picky, but I caught an editorial slip and it bothers me entirely out of proportion. Sir Ross’s mother is introduced to the reader (aka, full description of face, body, bearing, manner, etc), twice: once, when she visits Ross’ sickbed, and again, when Sophia goes to their country house. Usually, secondary characters’ physical descriptions are given only once, so this felt just a bit jarring to me.

* * * *

1 Hat tip to this tweet by Olivia Dade:

screenshot of tweet by @OliviaWrites: In real life, I'm usually a rule-follower, but apparently in romantic fiction, I prefer, "if you killed someone, you probably had good cause, now let me help you hide the body" love interests to the alternatives. I suppose I contain multitudes." (shrug emoji)

7 Responses to “Lady Sophia’s Lover, by Lisa Kleypas”

  1. Lori 21/02/2022 at 1:37 PM #

    I don’t think I’ve read this series and I read a lot of Ms. Kleypas years ago. It sounds pretty good.

    I think my TBR pile will not be thanking you Az.

    • azteclady 21/02/2022 at 2:39 PM #

      I liked them better the first time around, but they’re still solid reads. Let me know how you like them.

  2. willaful 21/02/2022 at 4:44 PM #

    IIRC, this was my favorite of her earlier books, and definitely of this series.

    • azteclady 21/02/2022 at 5:15 PM #

      It is my favorite of these three, for sure; I’ve forgotten too much about all the others to remember which one was my favorite.

      I do know I used to love Again the Magic, which sort of straddles the gap between this trilogy and the Wallflowers books.

      • willaful 21/02/2022 at 7:01 PM #

        That’s kind of a fascinating one, because it is half old skool and half… new skool?

      • azteclady 21/02/2022 at 7:12 PM #

        YES.

        There’s some hints of self-awareness, with McKenna’s musings on Westclif’s attitude towards aristocracy while ignoring his own privilege. There’s a nod to the “I’ll extract my revenge on the woman who did me wrong” while being obvious he can’t really go through with it.

        And honestly, addressing what’s his face’s (McKenna’s business partner) alcoholism, and giving the disgraced younger sister her own romance, was so refreshing to me.

        Not to mention the gay neighbor who’s Aline’s friend; I’ve always liked that he’s not made a caricature (I don’t think he’s mentioned in any of the subsequent books, which irks me some. In my head cannon, he found someone to love, and perhaps also someone to marry who would be happy in a similar arrangement than the one he proposed to Aline.)

        Now I want to re-read and review that one too.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Worth Any Price, by Lisa Kleypas | Her Hands, My Hands - 28/02/2022

    […] and this ranting review spoils a lot of the previous book, so if you plan on reading Lady Sophia’s Lover, I would advise you not to continue […]

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