Hi, sorry, sorry. This semester is kicking my ass, and all my classes are things I actually give a rat’s ass about (I’m taking law in the Ancient World, and it’s the best ever), so there’s a lot less procrastination on my plate this semester than last semester.
This is also the first book I’m reviewing from my brand new Kindle, which I adore more than is reasonable. I got it for school (really) and also so people can’t judge me for the covers of what I read. Yay for eink!
This book is so deliciously fucked up, you guys. SO. FUCKED. UP.
It’s set in the pre-Regency Georgian period, where George III is crazy, but not yet irredeemably crazy (spoilers), the Prince of Wales (future George IV) is a hellraising, seriously in debt and horny youth, and the ton is more fucked up than you can dream.
Our heroine is seventeen Antonia Lamb, daughter of Lord Lamb, and twin sister of Anthony Lamb. She’s about to have her debut on society when their father dies, and Anthony inherits the title and all property associated therewith. Antonia, being just a girl, gets nothing but a dowry she can’t touch until she gets married. She’s pretty pissed about this. The twins’ parents lived in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and their mother, a very pretty but very vapid, frigid woman is planning on staying there.
The hero is Adam Savage. He grew up poor, and determined to be anything but poor, went to the Indies and made his fortune. He was also Lord Lamb’s BFF, and was named as the guardian of the twins when Lord Lamb died. He’s tall, and dark, and hot, with scars. Also he’s kind of a manwhore.
With the former Lord Lamb dead, the new Heir Presumptive is Bernard. He’s evil. You can tell he’s evil not just because he’s in some serious debt, but also because he’s whiny, and is dangerously kinky. And racist. Racist and kinky.
When Bernard learns that his uncle died, he gets all bent out of shape that some seventeen year old kid gets to be a Lord of the Realm and he does not. So he tries to arrange various “Accidents” to kill off Anthony. He finally has one sort-of succeed when the sailboat he sabotaged gets caught in a squall with only the twins on board, the boat capsizes, and only one comes home.
Let me stop for a minute and say that while Antonia and Anthony are obviously fraternal twins, they do basically look identical. Black hair, green eyes – in the first page Antonia is bitching about how her boobs are annoyingly small.
You can see where this is going, right? You’re all pretty smart.
Antonia is rescued from the sailboat-wreck, and since both were dressed as boys out sailing, the household at first thinks it’s Anthony. They figure it out pretty quickly, but decide, since Bernard would inherit everything if Anthony is dead and Bernard is a douchebag who would turn them out without a moment to collect their shit (it’s very Sense and Sensibility), that Antonia should TOTALLY take Anthony’s place.
It’s at this point that there’s a brief bit about Anthony getting picked up by a ship heading to India, so you know he’s not actually dead and there will be an end point to this deception. But Antonia and her grandmother don’t know that. (Now, both Anthony and Antonia called each other “Tony” in an effort to amuse themselves and confuse other people. I am going to use “Tony” when referring to Antonia-acting-as-a-boy, and Antonia for Antonia-acting-as-a-girl. That’s how Henley does it, and it worked for me.)
So Adam is the guardian, and in Ceylon, and decides he needs a wife. And who better by the recently widowed widow of his BFF? But she is frigid, and he needs to go to England and sort some shit out there, including this giant house he’s building, so he leaves her with a promise that they will get married when he’s got his shit sorted out (which is completely different from an engagement. Just so you know).
Adam gets to England, and finds Anthony as a youth with no hair on his chest (figuratively and literally) and basically having no idea how to be a man. And so The Education begins.
And this is one of the deliciously fucked up parts. He starts by teaching Tony to smoke. And then drags him to all the squalid places the male gentry go to get their kicks. Tony falls in with the Prince of Wales and disreputable crowd, and sees a dick for the first time when Prinny (that’s the nickname for the Prince of Wales) calls over a servant so he can pee. At the dinnertable.
(There’s a whole subplot that has nothing to do with the A or C plots and tangentally related to the B plot of Adam trying to buy himself a peerage about the Prince of Wales trying to get a new mistress. It’s kind of boring, but he succeeds by marrying her in secret, knowing it will never be recognized by the King or Parliament. She knows this too, and is still good with it. Whatever. Apparently she’s a good lay, and he’s a Prince and the Heir Presumptive, so….)
So Adam is trying to make a man of Tony, while also furnish this giant house he’s just built out in the country. Tony keeps giving good advice on décor and all that, and is totally in love with the house. Tony is finding the Masculization of Tony both terrifying and AWESOME (As a girl, she can’t go where she likes, do what she likes, or say what she likes), and Bernard is livid to discover that he killed the wrong twin.
(They kind of go through this thing where it’s announced in the Society papers that Antonia is recuperating in Bath, but some people are told she is dead, and others are not.)
At the same time, Tony is falling utterly, thoroughly, head over heels in love with Adam. Her grandmother gives her a journal, where she writes almost nothing about anything other than Adam- starting with how high-handed and horrible he is, then excusing all of the previously mentioned faults, and then mooning over him like a 17 year old girl. (There is no mention of doing that thing where the teenage girl practices writing her married name, when she marries her crush, but there really doesn’t need to be, does there? It’s totally a given.)
So Bernard pulls a bunch of bullshit where he tries to arrange accidents for Tony, and Tony keeps trying to mention this to Adam, and Adam keeps going “what are you ON about? You’re just a snob because Bernard is mostly a commoner, not a silver spoon spoiled little brat unmanly brat like you.” And finally Tony has enough of this shit and challenges Bernard to a duel.
Tony keeps having a recurring dream where Bernard turns and fires on the count of nine, instead of ten (though I like Nine better than Ten- Ten was kind of an emo git during his run- sorry, but it’s true). So when it comes to the duel, Tony also turns and fires on nine, and hits Bernard but doesn’t actually kill him.
Adam decides enough is enough and takes Tony on a trip to go through the Mediterranean and buy up a bunch of stuff for the house and also hit Venice at Carnival. He also tells Tony in no uncertain terms that he seriously needs to get laid in Venice. Tony’s like “copy that” and plans to be Antonia in Venice and seduce Adam.
So they take up residence in separate hotels, she’s acquired some girl clothes (cloth of gold gown, cloth of gold knickers) (ow), uses face paint to paint on a mask (which actually, I found that rather ingenious- avoids the “unmasking” issue rather neatly) and hunts him down that night. He’s instantly smitten, and they fall into bed. She tells him her name is Ann, and she just wants a roll, because she can never marry and the dull torment of virginity kind of sucks. He refuses to deflower her, but they have a number of enjoyable orgasms each.
So they head back to England, and Adam is pleased to see that Tony is a lot less tense, and there’s a brief bit where they stop in France where Adam is being Obvious Smuggler is Obvious. He comes charging back on the ship, tells Tony to get in his (Adam’s) bunk, and throws on a robe just steps before a French constable. So clearly, instead of smuggling, Adam and Tony were busy doing the what-what. The French constable takes this in stride, and, as it turns out, Adam has been shot in the shoulder.
It’s left to Tony to patch up the hero with her trembling feminine fingers (I just spoent 20 minutes looking for this trope. I can’t believe they don’t have it), and Adam passes a restless night fevered and calling for Ann. Tony both loves this and hates it- she’s kind of stuck now, and what she is doing is utterly illegal, so…
Anyway, back in England, Adam has finally convinced the Prince of Wales to help him buy a peerage, and is given two Irish peerages to choose from. He sends Tony to go inspect one of them, which works out great for Tony because Bernard tried to kill her again. (Also an actress of Tony’s acquaintance came calling saying she was pregnant and Tony was the father. Tony calls her liar, and slaps her, and Adam then clonks Tony for hitting a woman- it’s ugly. Anyway, again, better for Tony to get out of town. Again.)
So in order to sneak out of London without attracting Bernard’s notice, Tony leaves as Antonia before changing back to Anthony in Bath. She adores the Irish castle and lands- they’re perfect. Adam comes a few days later, and happens to see Tony asleep in a hammock, and that’s when he realizes- what he thought was just a young, somewhat effeminate youth is actually a really hot young woman with a pretty good butt.
(Well, actually first he wakes Tony up and is all “LET US GO FOR A SWIM” and Tony’s like, “uh…..how about not?” and Adam is like “NO NO I THINK THIS IS A FINE TIME FOR A SWIM OH I RIPPED YOUR SHIRT SURPRISE BOOBS”). Adam is pretty ripshit at the whole “my dead ward isn’t the one I thought, whoops” thing. Actually, he calls her a devious bitch, and has absolutely no understanding of the position Antonia and her grandmother would have found themselves in if Bernard inherited.
They have a pretty good fight, where she yells at him and he conveniently forgets that he taught her things like how to fight and spit and whore, until Antonia finally loses it and tells him that she’d challenge him to a duel if she thought he had the guts. (Okay, that was kind of awesome.) He, on the other hand, is terrified about what might happen to him if people found out that she’d been playing the boy. He informs her that she’s to be a perfect lady from now on, and she says, “oh, fuck that” and finds herself a soapbox.
“You haven’t the faintest idea how loathsome it is to be a lady! As Anthony I could go where I pleased, say whatever I wished. Choose my friends. Make a wager. Eat or drink whatever I fancied. I could be sober as a judge or drink myself into oblivian. I could quote Shakespeare or get a laugh with a crude limerick. I could shoot grouse or shoot out the chamdaliers at Carlton House. In otherwords, as Anthony I was free. Free to choose! As Antonia I must be prim, proper and polite. I must be a lady. To be a lady is to be a prisoner. Never, ever free to choose!”
So they engage in a little Slap Slap Kiss, and he keeps trying to impress on her the horror of what she’s done and she’s like “So I’ve seen a little peen. It was attached to the Prince of Wales. YOUR POINT SIR” And he’s like “you realize you could have just said your brother went off to go visit your mother in India, right? That would have gotten everyone off your back for like, a year.”
Well, if they’d done that there would have been no plot, so….
Anyway, Adam spends a number of page reliving all the stuff he did with Tony, and then has the epiphany that Ann and Antonia were the same people. So there’s more where she’s trying to seduce him and he’s all “You are my ward for fuck’s sake. It’s just not DONE” (Yeah, tell that Charles Brandon, First Duke of Suffolk who’s fourth wife was his ward. Sorry, I’ve been on a Tudors binge lately.) it doesn’t take him too long before he capitulates and they finish what they started in Venice.
Adam then finds the journal and reads it, and is sort of disconcerted to see him painted in all his glory, faults and virtues, and says, okay, yeah, she’s kind of necessary, so lets stop denying and just go for it.
Now, they’ve sort of figured out their shit, and there’s still 15% of the book left. So they screw all over the castle in Ireland and the ship back to England and in the giant house. At the same time, Adam lures Bernard on to a ship on the way to India, and gives the captain instructions to dump Bernard in Madagascar. Which, you know, props for that. Also we find out that what he’s been smuggling from France is aristocrats fleeing the Revolution. Isn’t that sweet?
Of course then they get a letter from Anthony, of all people, who is, in fact, in Ceylon, with their mother. Antonia is thrilled, Adam is suddenly very concerned, because Madagascar is much to close to Ceylon for comfort. So off he goes to India, and Antonia demands that he bring her too. He has said he won’t marry her until he gets her mother’s blessing (won’t tell her WHY the blessing is so important) and she, of course (OF COURSE), is pregnant, and won’t tell him but won’t go without him.
So off they go. (His fastest ship takes 8 weeks to get from England to India. Could happen, I suppose?) They get to India just after Bernard, who has insinuated himself with Anthony and Eve and, of all the Unfortunate Implication in this book, the part where he hits on the woman who dumped his father is the unfortunatist.
So Adam finds Eve and is trying to work up the nerve to say “so… not actually an fake engagement of ours? I’m breaking it to marry your daughter who is not a frigid bitch” when Bernard shoots Anthony in the middle of the jungle, and then goes completely to crazy town and tries to burn down Adam’s plantation. While everyone is working hard to save the tea and rubber plants and treat Anthony for being shot in the chest, Bernard gets his foot trapped in a root or something and tries to wait out the night before trying to free himself.
In the mean time, Eve is like “BTW, totally marrying Adam, he’s going to be your new father, isn’t that awesome?” and the Tonys are like “….WHUT” and that’s the Big Misunderstanding and it gets cleared up pretty fast by Eve acting like a normal human being. It’s totally out of character. It’s almost weirdly like direct communication. So they get married and live happily ever after, Anthony gets to hang out in India for a while, being a manly man and Antonia…. Gets her man and once in a while smokes a cheroot.
This is only the second Henley I’ve read, and I liked it better than Enslaved. Cross dressing is always fun, and pre-Regency is also less often done, grand romp. Good times!
I’m a little…discomfited isn’t the word, but I’m not sure what is, about the Author Tract of “FEMINISM IS AWESOME” when you have the same theme of “sexually submit to your man.” I’m all for getting what you want out of sex, but the theme of “women are inherently submissive” runs through both of Henley’s books I’ve read, so I feel like she has a Thing here, and the Thing is vaguely uncomfortable. I just thought I’d mention it.
The whole overblown subplot about the Prince of Wales and his Quest for a New Mistress shows the research, but was mostly pointless. Okay, sure, it showed precisely why the Prince of Wales was willing to sell off an Irish peerage to Adam, (Maria’s rack is, by all account, fantastic) but really. The editing process is important.
I also admit that I’m kind of bloodthirsty, but I really wanted Antonia to be the one to end Bernard. Bernard has been trying to kill her for THE ENTIRE BOOK and she is denied revenge in favor of some leeches going down his throat? (NO THANK YOU FOREVER) She fought him in a duel! He tried to kill her and her family! What the hell. (blah, blah blah I don’t buy the “Just Like Him” argument. She deserved that much to at least get the option. At least Adam didn’t do it for her.)
The problem of Eve. Beautiful, rather frigid woman, concerned with status, didn’t actually mother her children, fine. As you can see, I love me some tropes. But to have the hero try and seduce the mother of his eventual heroine before he meets the heroine? And plan to marry her? Oh god, it was just SO SQUICKY. “Wait… so…. This guy is the hero- I know because of the cover copy… what is this? No really, what is this I don’t even.” (And then the whole “I’m going to act like an actual mother and give my daughter my blessing to marry the man I set my sights on- totally inconsistent with my character for the entirety of the book” is so, well out of character. I don’t get it.
Lastly, I was surprised at how the journal plot device was handled. I expected the journal to figure into the shit hitting the fan portion- I understand how one uses a Checkov’s Gun. What I expected to happen was that Adam would find it before he knew that Tony was Antonia, and the journal would be how he found out. I also thought that would be kind of heavy handed, but not nearly as heavy handed as some Chekov’s Reveals have been (Dan Brown, I am looking at you with DISAPPOINT). Having the journal be how Adam discovers Antonia’s feelings was more subtle, and I liked that very much.
All in all, I did enjoy the romp, and I would totally watch The Georgian Gentry Gallivants on the BBC or Showtime. Someone better option that right quick. And pay me for the idea. I’m poor, yo.