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Along Came a Lady by Christi Caldwell


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Along Came a Lady

by Christi Caldwell
August 24, 2021 · Berkley
Romance

Along Came A Lady is ridiculous, but initially I found it to be ridiculous fun. This Regency romance pits an etiquette teacher against a stubborn miner in a “Pygmalion” type story with a battle of wits and wills, plus a dash of “The Prince and the Pauper” and a smidgen of Poldark. Alas, the story went off the rails at around the 75% mark and soon began making even less sense than it did at the start, which is saying a lot. By the 98% mark random conflicts were springing out of nowhere like spaghetti strands thrown against a wall while I yelled, “The book is done! Stop cooking it!”

So here’s the sitch. Rafe is the illegitimate and unacknowledged son of a duke. The duke was a rake in his youth and now, having married and reformed, wishes to mend fences with his illegitimate children. I’ll tell you right here that I never fully bought into this story and I certainly don’t think the duke’s children owe him jack squat. Still, here we are: the duke wants to atone and thus we have a plot.

Rafe has two brothers and a sister (all offspring of the Duke). Rafe blames the Duke for his mother’s death (she died giving birth to Rafe’s sister) and for never acknowledging them when they were young. Now that the duke has reformed, many messengers have arrived in the coal mining village of Staffordshire where Rafe and his siblings reside, but Rafe has ordered that all letters be burned and all messengers be sent away, for Rafe will not allow anyone in the family to accept anything from the duke, and the strong-willed Rafe always gets what he wants.

Along comes Edwina. Edwina is also illegitimate and unacknowledged, facts she must keep secret if she is to build a career as an instructor of etiquette. She’s nonplussed to hear that the Duke wants to hire her to teach etiquette to Rafe and to convince Rafe to meet the Duke in London, especially when she learns that Rafe is a coal miner. Edwina wants to do the job because it will increase her business among the elite, not to mention increase her bank account with a large paycheck. So she takes her favorite parasol and shows up the coalfields with a polite and cheerful smile and an iron will.

Edwina is a delightful character, one who is determined but able to admit when she is wrong. I enjoyed watching her charm everyone except for Rafe with her positive attitude, her lack of snobbery and her genuine interest in people. Even more than that, it was great fun to see Rafe, who solves problems by metaphorically smashing through them, go up against Edwina, who approaches problems with a delicate yet relentless touch. I was happily amused by her matter-of-fact manner of constantly delivering etiquette lessons by pointing out each of Rafe’s gaffes as he argues with her about why he won’t take lessons.

Meanwhile, Edwina and Rafe can’t keep their hands off each other which leads to both eroticism and hilarity. It also increases the stakes for Edwina, who has to trust Rafe to keep their love making a secret so that she can maintain a respectable reputation.

All is more-or-less well until about 75% of the way through the book, when suddenly all of the characters begin making some very out of character and inexplicable choices. To begin with, Rafe and Edwina have an argument which seems to be entirely based on his failure to understand the concept of employment despite the fact that Edwina was always clear about her status as one of the Duke’s employees. Rafe becomes so angry with Edwina that he behaves coldly and dismissively, and is verbally cruel to her to a degree that I found abusive. This is in sharp contrast to his previous gruff but loveable demeanor.

Most of the conflicts between Edwina and Rafe could be resolved with a frank conversation, and they seemed to be at a point in their relationship where they could have some kind of honesty. Edwina trusts Rafe to keep their sexual relationship a secret, so why would she still be keeping her parentage and past experiences secret from him, especially since that would go such a long way towards diffusing the conflicts?

Matters then continue to careen off the rails. Rafe and Edwina make up, but…

Mild plot spoilers ahoy!

Sometime after the fight, Rafe and Edwina have sex standing up in a semi-public place even though Edwina knows that:

a) if she’s caught she will be ruined, especially since she thinks Rafe does not love her
b) Edwina and Rafe are surely aware that they are in a place with a lot of rooms so surely they could duck into one and shove a chair under the doorknob.

This scenario is so common in some romances that I’m forced to wonder if I should be concerned. I have never, but never, been so overcome with lust that I couldn’t say, oh, I don’t know, “Make some sort of excuse and meet me in the upstairs bedroom in 15 minutes, the one on the left side of the hall!” Good lord, people, how hard can it be to wait until you are in a room with either heavy furniture or a door that locks?

This episode leads to the expected plot complications which are resolved in the most ridiculously improbable way. On top of that, there is a moment so inexplicable and bizarre that I seriously had a rage meltdown.

I finished the book thinking, what on earth just happened? Why do several characters make abrupt transformations in the last two chapters? Rafe makes an admittedly lovely speech to Edwina in the last two pages of the book, but how does this resolve the plot? Where are Edwina and Rafe going to live? Is Rafe going to go back to being a coal miner or live in London, or what? I’m so confused!

By the end of the novel, the book is stuffed with conflicts between Rafe and his siblings, Rafe and his father, Edwina and her father, Edwina and Rafe, and Edwina and Rafe against either the reality of society or their perception of society. There are a great many conflicts just between Edwina and Rafe. Some of the conflicts are resolved far too easily and/or at the cost of character consistency, while others just vanish from the page and are no longer mentioned. Only a few are resolved with common sense and mature communication.

To sum up: The characters are fun and entertaining right up until they begin making so many baffling decisions and picking up and dropping so many random plot points that my suspension of disbelief was completely broken. Jennifer Crusie once said that there is a big difference between the audience saying, “I can’t believe he did that!” and the audience saying, “I don’t believe he did that!” The last quarter of this book was too much of the latter. This book started so well. It had a goofy, oddball charm. How I wish that charm had been sustained all the way through, but by the end I did not believe that ANYONE would make the choices that they made.

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