Gently bred Emma Chadwick always assumed she’d live and die the daughter of a gentleman. But when her father’s death reveals a world of staggering debt and dangerous moneylenders, she must risk her good name and put her talent for mathematics to use, taking a position as bookkeeper at London’s most notorious gambling hell. Surrounded by vice and corruption on all sides, it is imperative no one discovers Emma’s shameful secret or her reputation-and her life-will be ruined.
But Roderick Bentley, the hell’s sinfully wealthy owner, awakens a hunger Emma cannot deny. Drawn deep into an underworld of high stakes gambling and reckless overindulgence, she soon discovers that in order to win the love of a ruthless scoundrel, she will have to play the game…and give in to the pleasure of falling from grace.
The first book in a new series from Amy Sandas, Luck is No Lady tells the story of a young woman forced to live a double life, attempting to guide her younger sisters through a London Season while at the same time working as a bookkeeper in a gaming house in order to provide the wherewithal to do so. With the added complication of the massive gambling debts left by their late father, Emma Chadwick is constantly looking over her shoulder; how long until the man to whom the debt is owed demands payment? Will her sisters find suitable husbands before their meagre funds run out?
Emma is twenty-five and being firmly on the shelf, is putting all her energies into helping her two sisters to make good matches. Their recently deceased father borrowed a staggeringly large sum of money just before his death – twenty-thousand pounds – in an attempt to cover his losses at the gaming tables, and it’s money Emma knows she has no hope of repaying. But if she can get her sisters settled, they will at least be out of harm’s way and she will have done her best by them.
Our hero, Roderick Bentley, is the son of an Earl, but was born on the wrong side of the blanket. Tainted by his illegitimacy and having no love for the aristocracy, Bentley has made his fortune by a mixture of gambling and canny investment, so much so that his advice is regularly sought by gentlemen who wouldn’t otherwise give him the time of day or acknowledge him on the street. He now owns a select and highly successful gaming establishment, but when his bookkeeper disappears suddenly, he begins to suspect that the man was defrauding him and needs to employ someone to sort out the mess.
By this time, Emma has realized that she needs to find a way to make some money in order to continue to pay for her sisters’ Season – and thinks that the bookkeeping job she has seen advertised might be just the thing. Hoping that the darkly handsome Mr Bentley – with whom she shared a passionate and, she thinks, incognito – kiss at a recent ball – won’t recognise the woman in the dull, workaday gown, she applies for the job at the club and, after an exacting interview, is given the position.
So far, so good. The first part of the book moves along at a steady pace and the chemistry between Emma and Bentley bubbles along nicely and builds to a crescendo in a sensual card-playing scene at around the half way point. But the second half of the book is too drawn out with not much happening other than Emma working at the club during the day, chaperoning her sisters at night and worrying about the fact that she’s fallen in love with a man whose reputation in society is likely to harm her sisters if she were to associate with him publicly. The sub-plot relating to the moneylender from whom the girls’ father borrowed the money doesn’t really pick up until quite late on, when it is quickly shoe-horned into the story; and I found the author’s attempt to evoke some sort of sympathy for that particular character to be rather odd.
There are things to enjoy about the novel, but unfortunately, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole in this case. The premise is intriguing and I rather liked the idea of a mathematician heroine, but while there is no question that Ms Sandas’ prose flows well and the book is well-put together, there is nothing about it that marks it out as different from most of the other historical romances out there. Emma is a likeable, strongly-drawn but flawed heroine, whose desire to do the best for those she loves blinds her to the fact that perhaps there is more than one version of “the best”. She is strong and capable, but willing to admit to herself that sometimes it might be nice to have someone to share some of her burdens, even if only for a little while. Bentley, however, is less well-defined which, for a hero-centric reader like me, led to a sense of disappointment. He’s everything one expects in a romantic hero –handsome, honourable, compassionate and sexy, but I just didn’t connect with him and in the latter part of the book especially, he is rather too passive for my taste. I like beta heroes as a rule, but Bentley is a beta too far, particularly when he so meekly accepts Emma’s dismissal and her return to her self-possessed woman-of-society persona. In fact, I disliked Emma’s willingness to retreat into her shell as much as I disliked the fact that he let her do it almost without a word of protest; and doubly-disliked the way they both seem quite ready to throw love out the window without even thinking about the possibility of fighting for one another.
Overall then, I’m rather ambivalent about Luck is No Lady. It’s one of that large number of books that’s neither terrible nor outstanding; it’s decent and will pass the time without making the reader want to throw things, but that’s not really enough of a reason to buy a copy. I am certainly not ruling out the possibility of reading other books by Ms Sandas, as I like her writing, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this one.