So I came across The Tattooed Duke in our new Romance bays. It sounded interesting...but it was also the third in Maya Rodale's Writing Girls series. Eh, I decided to start at the beginning of the series since there were only three so far.
A Groom of One's Own opens with the wedding of Miss Sophie Harlow, a young lady in the gentry. Except she is jilted, in the aisle of the church, when her fiancee informs her he's going to marry someone else. Sophie flees to London to join her slightly scandalous childhood friend, Juliana, Lady Somerset. Together, they become the first Writing Girls, writing about weddings (Sophie) and Society gossip (Juliana) for Mr. Derek Knightly at The London Weekly.
Except Sophie hates weddings now. Develops near-panic attacks as the bride begins to walk down the aisle. When the anxiety becomes too much for her she flees one set of nuptials and bumps into a very nice, well-mannered and considerate gentleman, Mr. Brandon. As he escorts her home - since she's still a bit shaky - they strike up a rapport. Imagine Sophie's horror when she is assigned to exclusively cover "The Wedding of the Year", the wedding of a double-duke to the daughter of another duke: her Mr. Brandon is the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, engaged to Clarissa, daughter of the Duke of Richmond. It's a dynastic marriage, uniting two great families and giving the impoverished Richmond financial support, and certainly not a love match. It is the marriage Brandon desires because it is the proper thing to do. It certainly isn't proper to start thinking about Sophie, desiring her, and how she makes his life better.
Now, there are some historical anachronisms (notably, female journalists really didn't exist, or at least exist publicly, in the Regency period) and the language and situational plot devices seem very modern. But the creation of Sophie's phobia and the fact that Brandon is most definitely not the usual Regency rake (far from it) gives the tradition genre new life. On the other hand, there is a rather unnecessary backstory mystery and a secondary love plot/character/solution that presents itself with "I WILL SOLVE THE PROBLEM" practically tattooed on his forehead.
Once Sophie's big day goes off without a hitch, Juliana steps into the spotlight in A Tale of Two Lovers. The lovely widowed Lady Somerset is secretly the Lady of Distinction and no one knows who she is outside The London Weekly staff, not even her nemesis, The Man About Town, who writes a rival gossip column. When Juliana spies Simon, Viscount Roxbury, having sex with an actress clad as a man, she thinks she's scored a juicy piece of gossip and uses her column to imply that the viscount is a homosexual. The ton instantly believes this to be true even though Simon is likely the most notorious, womanizing rake in London. The social ostracism sparks off a battle of wills between Juliana and Simon which results in more questionable, dueling newspaper columns, a cross-dressing visit to White's, a drunken serenade, a shooting, a hasty marriage, and the unmasking of The Man About Town.
A Tale of Two Lovers is a fun little read. Juliana is stubborn, strong-willed, and completely off rakes since her husband died a notorious death involving a carriage, spirits, and a prostitute leaving her impoverished. Simon is a bit unusual for a rake - he's at the mercy of his father's purse strings. This novel is plotted very well - the B-plot involving the identity of The Man About Town is well inserted - and the sparring between hero and heroine makes for a good read. The focus on homosexuality as deviant made me squirm a bit. Even though the reaction is accurate for the period it got a bit uncomfortable after a while.
Now, there are actually four Writing Girls - the other two are Eliza, who is something like a gonzo or immersion journalist, and Charlotte, who writes an advice column. Eliza is the heroine of The Tattooed Duke, the storyline of which caught my attention in the first place. Sebastian Digby, the Duke of Wycliff, is a globe-trotting explorer in the vein of Captain Cook. He's been gone from London for years. London society is all agog to learn about his scandalous lifestyle so Eliza Fielding, known as W.G. Meadows to the readers of The London Weekly, goes undercover as a housemaid for the scoop. Eliza has access to all the juicy gossip, including the fact that the duke is almost penniless and likely to try and marry for money. Sebastian, on the other hand, is developing an affection for his cheeky housemaid - he even lets her see his scandalous, scandalous tattoos. Jinkies.
I really liked the A-plot of this novel: mysterious, globe-trotting nobleman returns from who-knows-where sporting a collection of South Asian tattoos and falls in love with a reporter. It's complicated by not one, not two, but three complicated B-plots. The hero and heroine have a personal B-plot apiece plus there is competition for government funding. Maybe could have used some editing. The electronic file could have used better line editing as well: one might "console" another person, not "consol" and wear a "bauble", not a "bobble" (unless you're speaking of knitted garments and, considering the novel was set in London not the Aran Islands, I believe they were speaking of jewelry).
There's just one Writing Girl left - Charlotte. Despite some of my issues with each novel, they were fun to read and I'd like to see the conclusion of the series.