Vexing the Viscount

Stroke of Genius by Emily Bryan
(Leisure, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-08439-6361-8
Stroke of Genius has a lot of positives that add to the story and these assets do slightly outweigh the negatives.

The assets are:

  • A heroine who has a lot of moxie, despite being a virgin and a little silly

  • A hero who has risen above his poor start in life, making a name for himself through his sculptures, and who loves to thumb his nose at the ton

  • A rather predictable family dynamic of a mother who wants her daughter to marry a titled gentleman and a doting father who should be smarter than he often acts

  • A French maid who is risqué and serves as the heroine’s tutor in the art of lovemaking and a valet/assistant who is intriguing and fun; yet whose character is not well developed

  • Excellent repartee between the hero and the heroine, using humor and a lot of sexual innuendo

  • A series of events that while easily foreseen, are written so that one can enjoy the actual interludes

  There are however, a few things that detract from the enjoyment of the tale.  These include:

  • An amazingly long line of sexual encounters that are either: a) one of the character’s fantasies or b) their dreams, which detracted from the real life encounters (and those are actually very well-written)

  • A typical male relative protagonist that provides a bit of a obstacle but ultimately his whole effort fell flat

  • A titled gentleman who I thought was going to be the villain and who seemed rather interesting, only to have him fizzle out with nary a blow

  • The author’s use of a variety of slang terms for parts of the body that just kept getting sillier and more absurd…I mean does any sensual male really think of his appendage as his “willy” and if he does, would he ever voice that, even to himself?

Stroke of Genius features Grace Makepeace, an American who has traveled to London to invade the ton and find a titled gentleman for a husband.  Or at least, that is Grace’s mother’s plan.  Grace just wants to experience life and hopefully find someone who she might love.  Grace is demur and uncertain, yet she bears the brashness often seen in Americans in this era.  She is tall and almost over the hill at age 21, and her mother is not great at building her self-confidence, giving Grace an edge that at times makes her seem younger than her years.

Her mother decides that Grace must be sculpted by the infamous artist, Crispin Hawke.  It is determined that the sculpture will be a study of her hands.  The hope is that this will intrigue the ton and their welcome will be assured …and not just for the large dowry being bestowed by her father.

Crispin lives on the edge of the ton.  He was born in a brothel from an affair between his mother and an unnamed Lord.  All Crispin has of his father is a handkerchief with his initials.  Crispin was lucky enough to become friends with a courtesan who sent him to art school and allowed him to develop his awesome talent.  He is accepted by the ton because of this talent.  He meets Grace and agrees to the sculpture, only because he is attracted by her spark and flare for boldness.  Crispin is also known as a rake and he sees Grace as a possible conquest once she is married to her gent and unhappy in his bed, as many ton marriages are and where he gets most of his bedmates.  

The story progresses as these two get to know each other and ultimately fall in love.  Their road to happiness is bumpy and despite those items listed above as deficits, the story ultimately delivers.  While Stroke of Genius refers to Crispin’s talent, it doesn’t fully describe the story.  However, luckily for the reader, the story doesn’t fall far from the tree.

--Shirley Lyons

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