I’m not going to lie: I love the cheesy title. It sets just the right tone.
Tessa Dare is one of five writers on my historical romance autobuy list and she earned her place there owing to sheer entertainment value. There are different ways for these books to be enjoyable, but Dare’s best books are of the “romp” variety. She is such fun! Oh, there will come a time when she will challenge your profound willingness to suspend your disbelief, but it will be (mostly) be worth it.
Dare’s current series is set in the small seaside town of Spindle Cove where young single women go to recuperate from illness, embarrassment, and/or hide from the world. Local resident Mrs. Highwood has three daughters: Charlotte, for whom I hope a story is in the offing; Minerva, a spectacled academic who has recently married a lord (A Week to Be Wicked); and her favourite daughter, the ethereally lovely Diana, on whom Mrs. Highwood has pinned all of her ambitions. It was Diana’s poor health that brought the family to Spindle Cove and while it worked as a restorative, it also left her at a loose end: Now that she is healthy and has a full life to look forward to, Diana has to decide what kind of life she wants.
Before I had even begun reading Beauty and the Blacksmith, my willing suspension of disbelief was being challenged. Diana couldn’t seriously end up with a blacksmith, could she? Is he the younger son of a lord in hiding? Did he watch Diana from the edge of ballrooms and follow her here? I was very curious to find out because of all the tropes of historical romance that I question, the marriage between someone from the gentry and someone “low born” is the one I regard with the most jaundiced pseudo-historical eye. Unless one of them is rich (him, always him), then all bets are off.
All bets are on. Aaron Dawes, while a strapping sweetheart of a man, is really a blacksmith. One who makes jewelry on the side and this could turn into a loftier career for him, but a blacksmith nonetheless. It fits in nicely with cowboy/fireman/fighter pilot on the Pyramid of Manly Professions, but it slaps the face of historical reality. Dare’s characters get away with all sort of suspension of disbelief-y shenanigans, but this was too much for me. The voice in my head kept saying, “But he’s a blacksmith, but he’s a blacksmith, BUT HE’S A BLACKSMITH,” with ever-increasing volume and HTML formatting. What that voice really meant is that something fell flat in making the pairing sufficiently believable. Diana and Aaron have been mooning over each other from a distance for two years, but how exactly did this mutual yen turn into a convention defying love? Dare included discussions of the ramifications of the relationship, but not enough attention was given to the actual falling in love part of the story. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the novella, even disregarding the even more patently ridiculous things that happened later because of the “romp” factor, I really did. It just wasn’t quite as fantastic as it could have been.
If you have an e-reader and 99 cents, Dare has a novella called The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright which is charming. Her best novel, so far, is A Week to Be Wicked, and she has one called Any Duchess Will Do (read: The Duke and The Barmaid) coming out at the end of May. I have already “autobought” it.
A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.