They say that opposites attract but sometimes lasting love seems more likely when the hero and heroine share the same interests and the same experiences. Such is the case with Gareth de Vere, Marquess of Harwood and Lady Althea Beauchamps, only child of the Duke of Clarendon. And yet the very experiences that these two attractive people share create barriers that threaten to keep them apart.
Both Gareth and Althea are apparently the children of privilege but both experienced parental neglect and mistreatment. Gareth watched his self-centered mother and weak father dissipate his inheritance. When he returned from the Peninsula after his father’s death, he discovered that his estates were encumbered with debt and his mother continued to expect to spend as much money as she needed to maintain her position in society. Gareth restored the family fortune the same way his father had lost it, by gambling. But unlike his father, Gareth is both a skilled and careful card player. His fortune restored, Gareth is an attractive match, but he disdains matrimony; thus his nickname, “the Bachelor Marquess.”
Althea’s experience was somewhat different, but equally troubling. She had sought desperately to please her parents, to win their love. But her selfish mother merely sees Althea’s beautiful exterior and plans her daughter’s future accordingly: Althea will be an Incomparable just like her mother and make a suitable match. Like his wife, the duke expects Althea to uphold the family’s honor and do what she is told. Neither father nor mother appreciate Althea’s intelligence, her competence, nor are they the least concerned with what she wants out of life.
Gareth first sees Althea across a crowded ballroom and, while much struck by her beauty, concludes that her aloof and distant manner means that she is just another beauty who expects as her right the attention her face and fortune gain her. Then, his calculating mother, who thinks that if Gareth were to marry the very rich Lady Althea she would be able to resume her spendthrift ways, maneuvers the two into a game of whist.
Gareth is stunned to discover that in Althea, he has met his match - at least in cards. Clearly there is more to this Incomparable than her beautiful face. He is intrigued. His interest in this unusual young woman increases when he discovers how unhappy she is with the future her parents have planned for her. She asks the marquess to help her use her skill at cards to achieve her real goal: enough winnings to buy a small estate where she can live her own life.
Neither Gareth nor Althea expect to find love, yet they find first friendship and then perhaps something more.
Both the hero and heroine are interesting characters and the author succeeds in showing the readers how and why they feel the way they do about love and marriage. In the Marchioness of Harwood and the Duchess of Clarendon, Richardson has created two of the most unlikable managing mothers that can be imagined. They are selfish to the core. The duke is a bit less unattractive but he too cares nothing for his daughter’s hopes and dreams.
There is much to like about Fortune’s Lady, yet I find myself unable to recommend it without reservations and for a somewhat unusual reason: the writing style. I am not usually one of those reviewers who notices the writing much at all. When I do, I can only conclude that it has intruded on my enjoyment of the story. There is too much telling and not enough showing. For example, at one point when the author clearly decided that she needed to explain why Gareth feels the way he does, she has him go on for three pages describing his parents’ wretched behavior. This is not dialogue; nobody talks like this. This is a lecture.
Still, the premise of Fortune’s Lady is enjoyable, the characters are well developed, and romance is nicely done. I just wish the writing had been as good as the story.