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The Boxing Baroness by Minerva Spencer

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The Boxing Baroness

by Minerva Spencer
October 25, 2022 · Kensington Books

To my great delight, The Boxing Baroness is about a female prize fighter in Regency England, and yes, that was a thing. This sumptuous historical romance has great characters and a swooping, gorgeous romance. The plot gets a little wonky but overall I enjoyed this book.

Marianne was adopted as a small child by her uncle who owns a small traveling all-female circus. It has the fabulous name ‘Farnham’s Fantastical Female Fayre.’ Marianne was sent to a posh school but now works as an exhibition boxer in the circus. She was married, or so she thought, to a villainous Baron named Dominic Strickland, “an unrepentant hedonist who was famous for depravity and sensual excess.” Before you think, “sounds like a guy I want to party with” you should know that the Baron specialized in non-consensual and dishonest dealings, as when he courted Marianne in the most genteel fashion and then promptly ruined her life. When Marianne discovered that the Baron was already married to someone else, she fled to her uncle’s circus, abandoned by the Baron and unable to find any kind of respectable work.

St. John Powell, the Duke of Staunton, is known to his enemies as “Lord Flawless” because he campaigns against certain forms of aristocratic corruption. His friends call him ‘Sin.’ I shit you not. Sin thinks Marianne is corrupt and amoral and Marianne thinks Sin is corrupt and arrogant and they loathe each other on sight. They also find each other to be absurdly attractive.

Turns out that Sin needs Marianne to help him find his long lost brother, who may or may not be being held hostage in France by Baron Strickland. So Sin blackmails Marianne into helping him, which causes her to hate him more, and Sin, his two besties, and the circus set off to France to try to sort out this whole missing brother thing, which is tied to smuggling and to spycraft and treachery.

This could have been a simple book: two people who are predisposed to hate one another have to work together and fall in love in the process. And that is essentially what happens, except that the plot thickens until it is roughly the consistency of wet cement with glitter in it.

In addition to the romance between Sin and Marianne, there are two other romances involving supporting characters. There’s a pet crow. There are state secrets, lockets with missing pieces, and secret compartments. There are elaborate plots involving Napoleon, The Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s ex-fiancee, Desiree Clary, and a plot by Gustav IV, all of which are based (barely) on the real people. Also there is circus stuff and some refugee stuff and Marianne and Sin’s emotional baggage.

If you like your plots to be complicated, then you’ll like this. Frankly, I found it to be exhausting, but this is very much going to be a personal preference kind of thing. What you WON’T find in the plot is gritty realism, although the more outlandish the character, the more likely they are to have a real-life counterpart. Instead, the farther the plot progresses, the more outlandish it becomes, until even Marianne comments, “That’s positively…gothic.”

The parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were those in which Sin learns about circus life, and Sin and Marianne develop a sense of respect for one another. They are both strong-minded, stubborn, and intelligent and it’s fun to watch them interact. They are also both complex and richly drawn characters with whom I quickly sympathized. Seeing them develop a true romantic partnership is delightful, although I did not for a moment buy the deus ex machina that allows for their happy ending. Although I didn’t fully believe in the practical aspects of their happy ending, I certainly believed in their emotional compatibility. I believed that they fell truly in love in a grounded, not to mention hot way that could stand the test of time. I also enjoyed their interactions with supporting characters, who will appear in at least one future novel.

The more grounded in history the novel was, the more I liked it. For instance, I enjoyed seeing how Marianne trained every day. However, people with more patience for plot than I will love the same increasing complications that just made me want to take a nap. There’s something here for everyone and I look forward to the next book, The Dueling Duchess.

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