This is the second entry into Cozzens’ American Heiress series about the Carrington sisters, one I was looking forward to after reading the first entry. A Dangerous Fancy flirts with a firm recommendation, but too many things didn’t work to give it my wholehearted approval.
Lily Carrington is the belle of the Carrington girls, if one listens to her mother. She is destined to make the best match of the five due to her beauty and grace, not to mention her large dowry. An American, Lily is fascinated by the nobles in England, and embarks on her second season with high hopes, especially since her sister Hannah married an Earl. (Their story was featured in A Flight of Fancy).
Lily catches the eye of none other than Prince Albert, who is married, unfortunately for him. He, along with some other nobles and one diplomat who are members of his Marlborough set, devise a plot to help him “have” Lily for his own. The Duke of Walford, a 40-year-old opium addict and friend to the Prince, agrees to court her and marry her. Then he will reveal that he’s homosexual and allow the Prince to “comfort” Lily, at which point she will gladly become the Prince’s mistress.
The diplomat, Alex Drake, is appalled that they are serious about this horrid plan. But as an untitled son of a merchant, his entire career and acceptance into the upper echelon of society is based on the approval of these nobles. So Alex decides to find another groom for Lily, to save her from this fate. He meets her and is instantly attracted. Lily is attracted too. Therein lies the conflict: Alex likes Lily. Lily likes Alex, so much she thinks she may want to marry him. Alex plays matchmaker for her to find her a man with a title. Lily cares little about a title, even though she spouts the nonsense often for her mother’s sake. Lily doesn’t know anything about the Duke’s unsavory behavior…in fact it is a well-kept secret from the entire ton. Rather, it is well-kept except for all the males who know the Duke.
And therein lies the trouble with the story. Much of the action is insipid nonsense. How can such a horrible secret which is patently obvious, and known by all his cronies, not be discussed by any of the women, who rule this society with their gossip? Lily flits around trying to please everyone, but is, in fact, quite intelligent and looking for someone with whom she can share a life.
The plot is full of misunderstandings between Lily and Alex that lead her down the path of destruction. The initial misunderstandings lead to more of them, and it gets downright tedious after a time.
Alex is a true hero in the deepest sense of the word. His traits are more than skin deep, and he allows his vulnerabilities to show enough that he engages the reader in his future. He is a little too noble for his own good in the end, but is a character that garnered my loyalty to hope for his happy ending.
Lily is harder to define. Her antics grew frustrating, particularly those where she jumped to an illogical conclusion and then acted without thinking through to the consequence. Yet, she showed sparks of wit, intelligence, and spurts of true feminine independence.
Cozzens attempts to show the changing world of the 1890’s by giving glimpses of some of the new technology and the beginning of the change in women’s thinking that ultimately led to the suffrage movement. For instance, Lily meets with a friend of Alex’s who shares with her the realities of the marriage bed in a most graphic (for the times) way. Although this shocks Lily, it allows her to understand the Duke’s secret when confronted with it.
On the whole, A Dangerous Fancy is an enjoyable read, but it didn’t hold up to my high expectations for Lily’s story.