But before I start flailing as I review Three Weeks with Lady X there is another topic I need to discuss. Can publishers stop releasing awesome romance novels on Tuesdays? I mean, seriously. I read this book in one big all-night NOM NOM NOM fest and showed up for work the next day bleary-eyed and clutching a Big Gulp. I can only call in with “Wednesday diarrhea” so many times before work becomes suspicious.
All you really need to know about Three Weeks with Lady X is that it’s 1. an epic Regency sass-fest 2. a melting of the ice-queen story, and 3. possibly James’ best book yet. It was so so good. I noticed some bad reviews on Goodreads and I kept thinking, did we read the same book?
This book shines because of the emotional depth of James’ characters. In many ways it’s a book about making peace with your past—about what you carry with you, and what you leave behind. I think everyone deals with this at some point in their life, and so it makes the hero and heroine utterly relatable.
The hero of this book is Tobias “Thorn” Dautry, the bastard son of the Duke of Villiers from James’ earlier book, A Duke of Her Own (which is also excellent). The Duke of Villiers has always been my favorite James hero, and I admit that it was strange having him appear in this book. Although he’s very much the same character, I think I put my heroes and heroines in stasis after I finish a book, and seeing him in his life after A Duke of Her Own was a little unnerving.
Readers will remember Thorn as a mudlark. He was abandoned by his mother and led a miserable Dickensian life scouring the Thames for treasure until the Duke of Villiers pulled his head out of his ass and took custody of him.
Thorn is now all grown up and is a wealthy, successful businessman. He’s decided it’s time to settle down and marry, and the woman he’s decided on for a wife is Laetitia “Lala” Rainsford. Lala’s family is willing to overlook Thorn’s dubious past in exchange for his wealth, but he needs to put on appearances to woo a woman of her stature. He buys a country estate, Starberry Court, and needs to refurbish it quickly in order to impress Lala’s mother.
Lady Xenobia India is the daughter of a marquess and also the most sought after interior designer in England. She’s not actually called that, of course, but India charges a hefty sum to revamp houses and get the staff in order. She’s a domestic goddess, knowledgeable about art, décor, furnishings, food, wine, and keeping a household full of servants in order. She’s also remarkably beautiful with white-blonde hair. She’s received plenty of marriage proposals, but she turns them all down. She’s unflappable, cool and consummately professional.
Thorn needs India to revamp Starberry Court quickly, and he offers to pay her a hefty sum to do. From the moment they first meet, sparks fly. Thorn manages to get under India’s skin, leading to flirtatious bickering and some excellent sparring. He’s the first man to make her lose her cool, to drop her ice queen persona. He makes her reveal her temper and he delights in it. In turn she challenges him, surprises him, and he starts to respect and admire her.
Throughout the renovation of Starberry Court their fighting changes from antagonistic to affectionate, and one of the things I loved was that they developed a friendship before they entered into a passionate relationship. There was a real sense of mutual admiration and respect between them, and I loved that.
So what’s the conflict? Well, Thorn is as good as engaged to Lala. Of course Lala, who is a fully-fleshed out and engaging character in her own right, really wants nothing to do with him. She finds him intimidating, but she’s allowing herself to be wooed as her family desperately needs money.
Lala represents Thorn’s entry into society. He’s essentially buying a perfect wife with no hint to scandal to wash away his bastard origins. Despite the amount of time he spends telling people that he doesn’t care that he’s a bastard, it’s apparent that he’s self-conscious of how society views him. Lala is also sweet and gentle and quiet, everything India is not. Thorn can’t imagine marrying a woman who challenges him at every turn (but he can’t stop thinking about India’s hair, damnit!) He’s also still hurting from his mother’s abandonment, which prevents him from making deep emotional attachments to women. He knows Lala will be an excellent mother to their children. She’s essentially his safest choice emotionally.
India has her own issues. She stays aloof, unattached because she is determined to maintain her independence. Her parents were odd-ducks, worshipping Diana the Moon Goddess, naming her Xenobia, letting her run wild and barefoot and forgetting to feed her. She was neglected, although they loved her, and when they died after leaving for London without a word to her, she wondered if they intended to abandon her. She remembers being hungry (her father squandered their money) and being alone, and she is determined never to be financially or emotionally dependent on anyone again.
The first half of the book is all India and Thorn renovating the estate, snarking at each other, and growing ever more attracted to each other. When separated they keep in correspondence, and their letters are some of the best parts of the book:
You’ll be happy to know the mirror and mantelpiece have been installed and look splendid.
In other news, I have managed to secure you an excellent cook. I had to lure him away from Lord Pistlethorpe’s household, and you will be paying him somewhat more than his normal wage. But given your boast that you are—I hope I have this right—more than a “rich bastard,” I knew you would not hesitate, because excellent food can make an otherwise uncomfortable house party bearable. He arrived with his kitchen crew in tow, and I hired them as well. I trust that Lord P does not send you a challenge, but if he does, I’ve not doubt you will be the victor at fisticuffs or something of that nature.
You may keep the mirror if you could restrain yourself from filching staff from other households. I have indeed heard from Pistlethorpe, who is not pleased.
By the way, we used to call him Mortar-and-Pestle at school, owing to his nocturnal activities.
I have no idea what you are talking about with reference to Lord Pistlethorpe, and I don’t wish to know […]
I was referring to a man’s wish to pleasure himself under the covers in the dark. Pistlethorpe treated his tool to a vigorous drubbing nightly in such a manner that every boy in the house knew it. Do women do the same? Were you sent to school?
I suspect that marquess’s daughters are too delicate and precious to leave the paternal eye, but I have no idea. My sisters were kept at home, but then we were all special cases.
Dear Mr. Dautry,
You may not write to me in this manner or shall cease to send you notice of what I am doing with your estate. I will simply forward the bills.
Lady Xenobia India St. Clair
I surmise from the irritation in your letter that ladies do not lie about at night touching their softer parts, which is a huge loss on their part. You should try it. It’s greatly relaxing, and you seem prone to vexation.
EPIC REGENCY SASS OFF
The dialogue, the banter in this book is most excellent. When Thorn and India start to soften, when they replace sharp words with kisses, I really started melting. The middle of the book, when India and Thorn are alone prior to the house party, exploring their newfound affection for each other had a wonderfully dreamy quality to it. I could read it over and over again.
There’s so much more going on in this story too. Lala has her own love interest—a country doctor. Lala’s mother is a truly awful person we all hate. Thorn takes in the daughter of his friend as ward. She’s a bit of plot moppet, but a charming one.
I really, really didn’t want this book to end. It was worth reading till two a.m., worth being exhausted the next day, worth all the feels it made me have, and it’s going straight to the top of my favorites list.