Eternally Yours

 
For the Love of Lila by Jennifer Malin
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4997-X
***
For the Love of Lila features a heroine who knows what she wants and is willing to go to great lengths to get it. Lila Covington is twenty-five and wishes to cash in the trust left to her by her late father, a respected academic. In 1828, however, the notion of a single woman taking responsibility for her own finances is practically unheard of, and Lila can find no solicitor willing to process the paperwork. When she stumbles across the office of Tristan Wyndham, a barrister who knew her father, it seems like a stroke of luck.

Lila is a devotee of Mary Wollstonecraft and has vowed never to marry and place herself in a position of subservience to a husband. If she can gain control of her money, her plan is to travel to Paris to live with a cousin and make her living as a writer. Tristan is astonished to see that Lila is no bluestocking, but a lovely young lady with a quick wit and a great deal of determination. It so happens that he’s traveling to Paris himself, and he offers to escort Lila. She accepts, but insists on dressing in boys’ clothing and passing herself off as a young man, which fools exactly nobody. Their next ploy is to pose as man and wife.

This gets Lila and Tristan to Paris, but not without a few close calls, romance-wise, in the inns in which they stay. When they finally do arrive, Tristan is astonished to find out that Lila doesn’t really know where her cousin is and that the cousin may not have any idea that Lila is coming to stay. At last Cousin Felicity is located. To Tristan’s experienced eye, it’s immediately apparent that the woman is a member of the demimonde, but Lila remains clueless. Meanwhile, their feelings heat up. Can Lila hold onto her principles when faced with a love match? (And why is she holding them in the first place, anyway?)

The premise of this story was quite clever, especially the use of a trust fund as a catalyst to throw the leads together. Tristan is quite delightful: level-headed and not nearly as sober as one might expect a barrister with political ambitions to be. His suggestions for dealing with Lila’s crises are sensible, and he tries hard to do the honorable thing in regards to their relationship.

Problem is, Lila is nowhere near his level of sensibility, and Tristan is forever having to rescue her from her own naivete and stubbornness. This is in direct contrast to her protestations that she is an independent woman who only needs access to her money to be self-sufficient. She insists on dressing as a boy, for no apparent good reason other than it sounds like a lark. She hares off to Paris without a clue where her cousin is located. She professes to want to be a writer, but has no idea that it takes time to actually get a book published and make some money off it. Her approach to consummating their relationship is heedless at best, and leads to predictable consequences.

In light of her headstong actions, Lila ends up a parody of herself: the supposed independent woman who doesn’t want to subjugate herself to a husband ends up having to depend on one for her own survival because she’s not nearly as smart or independent as she thinks. An opportunity to create a truly strong and independent heroine who is the equal of the hero is simply lost. Instead we get Romance Standard #38: Miss “I Can Take Care of Myself” proves she’s incapable of doing just that.

However, there are flashes of great creativity here and Jennifer Malin is showing more depth as a writer with this release. For the Love of Lila is well-written and mostly entertaining. The strong hero is presented perfectly. All that’s needed is a strong heroine to match him and Ms. Malin’s next book could well be headed for the keeper shelf.

--Cathy Sova


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