|A Lady of Persuasion is the third book in new author Tessa Dare’s very promising introduction to the romance world. Ballantine’s decision to publish the novels in three successive months has done its work. Dare is getting good reviews and there is much chatter about her talent. I am happy to say that her latest book meets the high standard she has already set for herself. A Lady of Persuasion is a most enjoyable read.
The hero of A Lady is Sir Toby Aldridge, an important figure in Dare’s first book and an important “presence” in the second. In Goddess of the Hunt, Sir Toby was the object of its heroine’s affections and the target of her plot which led to a completely different outcome. Lucy Waltham had sought to lure Sir Toby away from his beautiful and rich fiancée. Instead, she had created a scandal and was forced to marry Jeremy Trescott, Earl of Kendall.
In the second book, Surrender of a Siren, Sir Toby’s fiancée, Sophia, had fled on the eve of their marriage, finding adventure, love and herself on the high seas. Rather than cause a scandal or even sue Sophia and her family for breach of contract, Sir Toby had acted the gentleman and returned to his amorous pursuits in London, becoming a favorite target of the scandal sheets.
As the story opens, Sir Toby is a guest at Lucy’s first ball. Also present are Sophia and her new husband, Sir Benedict (Gray) Grayson, the hero of the hour. Understandably, Sir Toby is more than a little peeved. He is hurt that Sophia jilted him and angry at the man who won her heart. But his friendship for Jeremy and Lucy precludes his creating a scene at her ball. Then, across the room, he spies the most beautiful creature he has ever seen. He sweeps her into a dance and then out onto the terrace. He there discovers that this dark haired beauty is none other than Isabel Grayson, the half-sister of his rival.
Perhaps Sir Toby is a bit motivated by revenge as he pursues this new acquaintance, but he is also fascinated by this unusual young woman. Isabel admits that she has agreed to a London come-out with the single-minded idea of marrying an influential and powerful man. She wants to use her social position to persuade the world to adopt the reform causes that are so dear to her heart. Toby finds himself agreeing to help Isabel find such a suitor, but after reviewing the possibilities, decides that none of them are good enough. Instead, he offers himself.
Toby is forced to admit that, at present, he does not fit Isabel’s criteria, but he could. After all, he’s handsome and popular and wealthy. And he could run for Parliament. By the time their tete-a-tete is ended, Sir Toby finds himself on his knees in the ballroom, asking Isabel to marry him. To her own amazement – and her brother’s consternation – Isabel accepts.
Toby finds himself betrothed to a woman whose social conscience is the driving force in her life. Isabel’s passion is understandable. Raised on the island of Tortola, she had lived with the evils of slavery, discrimination and poverty. Ignored by a dissolute father and a mother whose illness had left her mentally ill, she had found solace in religion and good works. She sees in London almost overwhelming evils to fight and throws herself into reform efforts, perhaps even to the detriment of her health. Toby respects and admires her commitment, but isn’t quite sure how to woo his bride. His challenge? To direct at least some of Isabel’s passion towards himself.
Sir Toby is an absolutely delightful hero. Indeed, one wonders why in the world Sophia threw him over. Authors often “tell” readers that this or that hero is immensely attractive to women. Dare excels in “showing” exactly why the female sex finds Toby irresistible. He is simply charming.
Like the heroines in Dare’s two previous books, Isabel is very young, merely twenty years old. Her belief that she can change the world may reflect the naiveté of one untempered by experience, but where would we be without our young idealists? One closes the book aware that Isabel has become more in touch with her personal emotions and needs but one also believes that she has and will make a difference.
Isabel’s awakening to her physical self on her wedding night is one of the most sensuous love scenes I have read in years. She is most fortunate that Toby is her guide. His tenderness and care of his bride is beautifully described. If I hadn’t already adored Toby, this scene alone would make him one of my favorite romance heroes.
Of course, there are hurdles on the way to the happy ending. The happy-go-lucky Toby and the deeply serious Isabel seem an unlikely pair. But by the end of the story, I was convinced that each brought out the best in the other. Dare has a wonderful ability to show how love can lead to personal growth and real happiness.
NB: I realize that by centering my review on Toby and Isabel’s relationship, I may not have given readers an accurate sense of the complexity of A Lady of Persuasion. Dare has a fine cast of secondary characters, including those from previous books. She includes an enjoyable secondary romance centering on Isabel’s mulatto half-brother. She introduces Toby’s interesting family. She describes upper class reform efforts and contemporary political campaigns. And there is a good deal of humor to be found. But for this reader, at least, the love story of Toby and Isabel overshadowed everything else.