Worth Any Price, by Lisa Kleypas

28 Feb
Cover for Worth Any Price; a white woman shown from the cheekbones down to the floor, wearing a purple off the shoulder gown with a belt, short puffy sleeves and a hem ruffle, holding one side of the hem to the top of her thigh, showing a glimpse of bare leg.

The final book in the Bow Street Runners trilogy, and easily the most problematic for me.

Reader, beware: there’s graphic sex; there’s parents literally selling their eldest daughter to a wealthy man; there’s emotional abuse, and a character dies by suicide on the page. There’s also a scene with iffy consent between the main characters.

Oh, 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 reading.

Worth Any Price, by Lisa Kleypas

In the previous entry in the trilogy, we learn that Sir Ross Cannon saved the life of Nick Gentry, someone accused of crimes so serious he was set to be hanged, by making him a Bow Street Runner (the mechanics of this are mostly hand-waved). It’s now three years later, and Gentry has become the best of the Runners, and as popular with the public as ever.

Which is how he meets our heroine; he accepts a private case that will take him away from London, and a particularly obnoxious instance of public adoration. It is also how his interfering brother in law decides it’s time for Lord John Sydney, Viscount Sinclair to take his rightful place in the world.

Because of course.

Here’s the blurb

What is the price of love?

Nick Gentry is reputed to be the most skillful lover in all England. Known for solving delicate situations, he is hired to seek out Miss Charlotte Howard. He believes his mission will be easily accomplished — but that was before he met the lady in question.

For instead of a willful female, he discovers one in desperate circumstances, hiding from a man who would destroy her very soul. So Nick shockingly offers her a very different kind of proposition — one he has never offered before.

He asks her to be his bride.

And he knows that this will be much more than a union in name only. For he senses what Charlotte does not yet know — that her appetite for sensuality matches his own. But what Nick learns surprises him. For while London’s most notorious lover might claim Charlotte’s body, he quickly discovers it will take much more than passion to win her love.

It is now a theme with this trilogy that I still like many things about the books, while also finding they’re tropetastic and problematic in several ways, well beyond insta-lust.

So while Worth Any Price is very readable, the romance flows well, the sex is both very well written and works for character development, so that the Happily Ever After is very believable, what jumped at me most on this re-read were the problematic elements.

And boy, there are some big ones.

The setup is quite over the top: a wealthy lord (an earl, I think?) becomes obsessed with a young girl, and makes a deal with her parents: he’ll pay for her education and keep the family out of debtors’ prison and the workhouse, on the condition he has absolute control over her until she’s old enough and he can marry her.

She’s not even a teen when this deal is struck.

He’s 30 (THIRTY) years older.

And yet, Lottie spends a great deal of emotional labor trying to reconcile with her parent–because it’s a recurring theme in genre romance that “family is the most important tie” and “blood is thicker than water”, even when family is toxic, abusive or, as is the case here, criminally mercenary, so a proper (good) heroine will forgive her mother or parents literally everything.

Which is bad enough, but we are told the man was controlling to the nth degree. Yes, Lottie attended a ladies’ finishing school, but her curriculum was dictated directly by him, as was her freaking diet if he thought she had “become plump” (hello, puberty? people gain weight!)

When Nick meets Lottie, who’s successfully hidden herself away in the country for two years, working as a companion, her options are few: she can run again, and keep looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life 1, or she can marry, and thus become another’s man property.

Two men offer to save her: her employer, Lord Westcliff–a good man, who ‘deserves better, deserves to marry for love’–and Nick Gentry, a commoner with a criminal past.

Of course she goes for the criminal. 3

More problematic is that, after she and Nick marry, when he gets angry (oh, any time she asks questions he doesn’t want to answer), he walks out of the house, sometimes for a whole day. And that is not presented as the abusive and controlling behavior it is, but explained away as “he would never hurt her, he just needs space to cope with his demons”.

Those demons are part PTSD from some months spent in a prison hulk 4 (please note, at the time, this was the lesser sentence, and a mercy, as his accomplices were all hanged), part guilt over his survival, and part stemming from being orphaned and ending up on the streets at about 8 years of age–viscount or not.

Which, valid, but a lot of Nick’s behavior ends up being hand-waved as, “oh, his past torments him” and forgiven with little atonement, let alone he himself regretting any of the actual crimes he had committed.

Then there’s a scene where Nick starts fondling Lottie when she’s asleep; she wakes up aroused, but also upset, because she did not consent, and he laughs it off. It feels like the reader is supposed to laugh it off as well.

“Oh, but they’re to be married the following day!”

So what? She didn’t consent.

“But she was aroused!”

So.

What.

She didn’t consent.

And of course, the obsessed pedophile? Not just obsessed, not just evil, also insane.

Because evil in genre romance is almost always explained as insanity, contributing to the stigma against mental health.

The final thing about that plotline that enraged me is that the man kidnaps Lottie, puts a gun to her head, then kills himself; next we see Lottie, she’s taken herself off to Bow Street to make a declaration, having had enough presence of mind to tell the man’s servants not to touch the body or disturb the scene, and…that’s it.

PTSD for Lottie? None.

Yes, she’s afraid of lord what’s-his-face, and with reason, and she’s afraid enough she marries a stranger, even after it’s been revealed he’s Nick Gentry, basically still a criminal, but that’s pretty much it. There are no markers in her inner dialogue or feelings towards Nick, or really, her behavior as a whole, that reflect her trauma.

And then.

We are told she works out the trauma of years (a decade plus?) of fearing this man during that conversation, with a gun to her head, and apparently that means that when he kills himself inches from her, so she’s covered in gore, she isn’t traumatized at all.

We basically go from the Bow Street scene to the epilogue a few months later, with Lottie pregnant, and she and Nick just happy as can be.

Yes, I am still enraged by this part.

Oh, and did I mention Lottie has four (five?) younger siblings who are left with her parents, one of whom a 15 year old sister her parents had agreed to sell off to Lottie’s…stalker? erstwhile fiance? (this is how Lottie gets kidnapped), and that no further mention is made of any of these children again?

Not one line.

So, how do I rate this? If Lottie’s backstory were simply that she ran from an arranged marriage with a much older, lecherous man, I’d give Worth Any Price easily an 8.00 out of 10, even with my issues with Nick. As it is, I’m going to annoy most Kleypas’ fans who come across this review.

5.00 out o 10.

* * * *

1 Mind you, it is never explained how she can be legally forced to marry once she reaches majority, so either we are supposed to believe that even then she’s her father’s property, or that everyone knows he’ll force her in other ways. Since Nick marries her in London 2, we can assume she’s already of age (21 at least) as the story starts.

2 For those who don’t know: young girls would elope to Gretna Green, just over the Scotland border, because there they could be married ‘by declaration’ (i.e., without parental consent) and girls as young as 12 could be married under their own ‘consent’ under Scottish law at the time. (Age of consent for marriage is now 16 in Scotland, no parental consent necessary.)

3 Oh, and Nick’s reasons to marry Lottie? Within hours of meeting her, he decides that “he had to have her”; in so many words, he’s obsessed with her. So there’s that extra level.

4 Prison hulks were decommissioned military ships that were anchored (or stranded), and packed with prisoners; barely space to move about, forget amenities like latrines, imagine the rest.

2 Responses to “Worth Any Price, by Lisa Kleypas”

  1. Lori 28/02/2022 at 1:06 PM #

    Oh…
    ……..no

    • azteclady 28/02/2022 at 2:40 PM #

      Yeah.

      It’s amazing how much of this passed me by entirely on previous reads. I’ve changed (hopefully grown) enough that it’s now pretty glaring.

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