It’s 1858, Mercy Dawson and her bastard son have been brought to the family home of Stephen Lyons. Appalled by her conduct, her father abandons her there. Thinking Stephen dead, Mercy is hoping that in bringing his son to his aristocratic family, they will let her stay on as nanny. She just wants to be with her child, but quickly learns that Stephen is very much alive and in rough shape. Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman follows the development of their relationship and the marriage of convenience that ensues. Everyone is lying, so it’s a little complicated.
Stephen and Mercy each spent two years in the Crimean War. He was a commissioned officer and she was a nurse. They first met when he was wounded early in his tour and they formed a friendship. Wounded again, Stephen returned to the ward, but this time when he woke up his memory was blank. He has blocked out every second of his wartime experience. It is a blessing and a curse. Mercy remembers everything about her time struggling against horrifying conditions and despair, including the woman who had Stephen’s child and abandoned him to her. It’s a lovely plot and character detail that she remembers too much, he remembers too little, and they are both traumatized.
I enjoyed a great deal of this historical romance. Mercy’s strength and profound love for her adopted child make her instantly likeable. Stephen was a rake of the “I love’em and leave’em, but they know the rules going in” type before the war. He joined the army to give himself a purpose in life and acquitted himself honourably, but is still lost because of his memory issues. Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman kept me interested and entertained, but it did start to drag in the last third. Like all of Lorraine Heath’s romances, most of it was a better than average and the relationship felt sincere. Heath is still on my B-list and I doubt that will change; however, I wanted to address this:
“There was the true tragedy of his affliction. On the street, he might run into someone who had saved his life — and Stephen would ignore him because he wouldn’t recognize him. He should buy him a drink. Hell, he should buy him a woman. And instead, he would casually stroll by as though the man were nothing.”
“HE SHOULD BUY HIM A WOMAN”?
Ms. Heath, you have got to be joking. In a book written by a woman for women, historical romance or not, you insult your readership by writing about them as something that should be bought as a thank you gesture. “I can’t think what to give him as a present. Should it be a shot of whiskey, perhaps funds for his family, or maybe a person he can exploit to satisfy his urges? Oh, that’s perfect. I’ll buy him a woman!” Jesus H. Christ, I found that offensive. The romance genre is about a woman’s right to self-determination, except, apparently, for those ones over there who are just whores. How is that different from the men who attacked Mercy when she was working as a nurse? Especially after the narrative repeatedly mentions that Stephen loves and respects women. Is it different because of financially motivated consent? Women who are “no better than they should be” really bother me in these books. Even in a wish-fulfillment genre, I reject the happy hooker trope. I can live with the mistresses, but I really don’t want to encounter the male fantasy of prostitutes eager for sex or as inconsequential receptacles in fiction for women.
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