Georgette Frost’s time is almost up. On her twenty-first birthday, the protections outlined in her late parents’ will are set to expire. With prospects for employment or marriage unfavorable at best, she decides to leave London and join her brother, Benedict, on a treasure hunt for gold sovereigns stolen from the Royal Mint.
Lord Hugo Starling has always felt protective of his friend Benedict’s sister, Georgette. So when he discovers her dressed in ragged boy’s clothes, about to board a coach for parts unknown, he feels duty bound to join her search. But mystery piles upon mystery as they cross England together, not least of which is the confounded attraction between them. As Georgette leads him to a reward he never expected, Hugo realizes he’s embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime…
Passion Favors the Bold is the sequel to Theresa Romain’s thoroughly enjoyable romance-cum-treasure hunt, Fortune Favors the Wicked, wherein a blind former naval officer teams up with a former courtesan to locate the six missing crates of gold sovereigns that have been stolen from the Royal Mint in order to claim the hefty finder’s fee. The events of this book run more or less concurrently with this one, so it’s not really necessary to have read that first – and in fact, the books can be read in any order.
Georgette Frost will, on her twenty-first birthday, likely become homeless. After her parents died in an accident, the conditions of their will stipulated that the relatives who took over the family bookshop would house her until she was of age. Her birthday is approaching, and while her aunt and uncle have never been unkind to her, Georgette knows that they need space for their own, growing family, and having to keep her fed and housed has been a drain on their resources. Knowing that her brother, Benedict, has travelled to Derbyshire in search of the missing coins, Georgette decides to join him there and help if she can. She doesn’t know him well as he has been at sea for most of her life, but he’s her only family, and Georgette yearns to be part of something and to find a purpose in life.
Sir Hugo Starling, younger son of the Duke of Willingham is a friend of Benedict’s, having studied medicine with him in Edinburgh. Medicine is not a typical profession for a man in Hugo’s position – in fact, his family intended him to go into the Church – but the loss of his twin brother more than a decade earlier led Hugo to take a different path, no matter that it put a strain on his relationship with his family. Firmly believing that his brother’s life could have been saved had the duke employed a physician selected because of his knowledge and skill rather than his reputation in society, Hugo became determined to prevent others from suffering such devastation and loss and trained as a doctor. He continues to practice, but his driving passion now is the creation of a brand new hospital in London, but he is having trouble getting the needed financial backing. When he encounters his friend’s sister – dressed in ragged, boy’s clothes and insisting on travelling to meet up with her brother in Derbyshire – Hugo wants to take her to stay with his mother until he can contact Benedict, but Georgette is adamant, telling Hugo that “being in [Benedict’s] company would be better than being alone”. When she learns of Hugo’s difficulty in persuading anyone to invest in his hospital plan, she tells him that if he were to be instrumental in finding the gold, the publicity that will attach to his name can only help him in his cause – and realising that she’ll go with or without him, Hugo begrudgingly agrees to accompany her.
Along the way, they encounter a Bow Street Runner by the name of Jenks, who is following up on rumours that blobby bits of gold have been used to pay for things as far north as Northumberland. They eventually make their way to the estate of Sir Frederic Chapple, a congenial, somewhat eccentric baronet who welcomes them warmly, in spite of having absolutely no idea who they are or why they are there. Sir Frederic has newly come into this title and is not best pleased at having to spend so much of his time on his far-flung estate dealing with tenants, drainage and disputes over sheep. So the appearance of the young couple is a pleasant diversion, and a useful one, as he puts Hugo to work treating his tenants and estate workers. But when a grateful patient slips Hugo a gold “blob” the stakes are raised – as it seems the thieves will stop at nothing to prevent the discovery of the gold’s hiding place.
While the treasure hunt is an important part of the story, lying at the heart of Passion Favors the Bold is the gently-paced story of two people searching for that missing ‘something’ and struggling to break free from what their pasts have made of them to find the futures they deserve. Georgette’s parents were so wrapped up in each other and their love of books and literature that she was little more than an afterthought, and with her brother away at sea, she was lonely and lacked any real affection. She would like to find love, but what she really wants is to matter to someone; while Hugo, who has known both love and affection also knows what it feels like to lose them and is wary of opening himself up to either. Since the death of his twin, he has sought refuge in the certainty to be found in planning and organisation, and the need to honour his brother’s memory by doing something to prevent others from suffering the same loss and grief as he did. In this way they’re the perfect complement to each other; Georgette is impulsive and open to all sorts of new experiences while Hugo is cautious and reserved, and I enjoyed watching him gradually falling under the spell of Georgette’s warmth and optimism to become a man prepared to open himself up to the possibility of loving someone again
The romance in the story is very well-developed and proceeds at a realistic pace. There’s an undercurrent of attraction between the pair right from the start and their long journey together affords them plenty of time to get to know each other better. Their conversations are laced with gentle, affectionate teasing, and their growing longing for each other is nicely-judged; there’s no over-the-top mental-lusting over shapely curves or rippling muscles, just a simmering awareness and a growing mutual understanding that gradually turns into –
… a sturdy feeling, built brick by brick from fondness and laughter and annoyance and lust and mischief and admiration.
That quote illustrates another of the story’s great strengths – the writing. The book is full of beautiful, poignant turns of phrase –
“Love is… laughter after a joke that isn’t all that funny,” he said. “Asking how a day was, and listening earnestly to the answer. Splitting the last tart instead of eating it all oneself… it is,” he added, “putting down a book for one’s companion when one only wants to read.”
And of course, Hugo has done all those things for Georgette – he just hasn’t realised it yet.
Passion Favors the Bold is what one might call a ‘quiet’ book. It’s not flashy or flamboyant; it’s just a beautifully written story about two people falling in love. I will admit, however, that it’s sometimes just a little too low-key which caused me to knock my final grade down a little; but it’s the sort of book that pays dividends in the long run, and one I’m certainly happy to recommend.