This is the first book I’ve read by Karen Hawkins. It’s also one of a series of books that focus on a magical ring: “They say the St. John talisman ring was made by the fairies and given to the handsomest man in all England, one Sir Gervase St. John. The fairies spelled that ring so that whoever held it should fall madly in love.” How to Treat a Lady tells Chase St. John’s story.
Chase St. John has decided to leave England. He’s spent the better part of a year drinking and gambling to escape from the belief that he ran over and killed a woman with his curricle. He plans to write to his family and explain his departure once he leaves England, but first, he must deal with Harry Annesley. Harry was with Chase when he ran over the woman and has been blackmailing him ever since. Chase tells Harry that “You’ll have to find another pigeon to pluck.” He doesn’t get far before he is beaten, robbed, and left for dead.
An unconscious Chase (along with the talisman ring) is found by Harriet Ward, who takes him to her family’s home. Harriet faces a challenge of her own in the form of a bank that is pressing her family to repay a loan. To secure an extension on the mortgage, Harriet’s mother invented a wealthy sea captain named Captain John Frankenham, who is supposedly engaged to Harriet. But one bank officer becomes suspicious, and when Chase seems confused after regaining consciousness, Harriet’s mother takes advantage of the lapse to introduce him as Captain Frankenham.
How to Treat a Lady is a story about secrets. Chase keeps the secret of the curricle accident from his family. Harriet and her family keep the secret of a nonexistent fiancé. Then, Harriet and Chase keep secrets from each other. Harriet allows him to believe that he is Captain Frankenham. Chase leads Harriet to believe that he has lost his memory from the attack.
Some of the reader’s enjoyment of this novel will depend on how they respond to stories that involve a big secret. This one works for me — at least initially — because Chase realizes he is being deceived from the very beginning, and he goes along with it to help the Ward family. This turns into a bit of a conundrum, as he later muses:
“It could have been funny. And perhaps it was, in a way. She didn’t believe him when he said he didn’t remember who he was. And he didn’t believe her when she said he was Captain John Frankenham. In order to prove her wrong, he’d have to admit his falsehood. In order for her to prove him wrong, she’d have to admit to her falsehood.
It was a quandary of the highest order.
The secret starts as a quandary but becomes more of a problem as it is drawn out for far too long and keeps a barrier between Chase and Harriet for more than half the novel. This prevents them from getting to know each other in ways beyond the surface. As for the characters themselves, I liked Chase. His self-pity can be extreme at times, but this quality is balanced by his kindness, wit, and sense of humor. Harriet is spirited but often sounds almost sniping. She has overbearing moments, saying things like, “Anyone who keeps secrets from his own family is a selfish wretch.” Some of her exchanges with Chase sound more like argument than banter.
How to Treat a Lady starts with a secret and ends with secrets revealed. Readers who have been following this series by Karen Hawkins will definitely want to catch this installment, though it stands well by itself. I found the resolution to be a bit too pat, but the hero is definitely a treat.