by Georgette Heyer
Lady Mablethorpe is aghast at the idea of her young, impressionable son wanting to marry one of Faro's daughters; that is a, a woman who works in a gaming house. Lady Mablethorpe is worried that once Adrian comes of age soon, his bride will gamble away his fortune and ruin the family name. She enlists the aid of her nephew, Max Ravenscar, to help his cousin. Max thinks he can easily buy the woman off, but when he meets Deb Grantham, he discovers she is a far tougher opponent than she seems. Deb, forced by necessity to preside over her aunt's gaming house, faces a mountain of debts. She hopes to win a fortune on the bank so she can buy back the debts the odious Lord Omskirk has bought from her aunt. It's either that or become his mistress and Deb, though employed in a seedy occupation, is chaste and anything other than marriage would be repugnant to her. She has no intentions of marrying young Mablethorpe but when his cousin interferes, Deb's temper is aroused and she vows to get the better of Max.
This is one of my least favorite Heyer novels. The plot moves slowly in the first half and consists largely of sparring between Deb and Max. The second half of the book is more fast-paced and interesting another subplot is introduced. The book is largely devoid of Heyer's sparkling dialogue and memorable characters.
I liked Deb because she's intelligent, resourceful and has a sense of humor. I did not like the way she dealt with Max and it made her seem immature, which she is not. Her exchanges with Max are not the usual push-pull banter. They're hateful and even cruel. Yes he started it but she didn't have to dignify his rudeness with rudeness. Not that I wouldn't act the same way, but I just didn't care for their relationship.
I loathed Max. I usually love the sporting heroes but not Max. At first glance he seemed like a good hero. He has no patience with his aunt's hysteria and is unwilling to become too involved in his cousin's affairs but once he meets Deb, he lost all admiration from me. He's arrogant and incredibly rude to her. He makes judgments based on assumptions about women who run Faro banks but it's fairly obvious Deb isn't what he thinks she is. He has no sense of humor whatsoever and can't take a joke. He can't even recognize that it is a joke but his teenage sister can! He doesn't improve as the story goes on. He continues to be rude and insulting towards Deb and he doesn't experience any character growth or change in the story.
The women come off better than the men in this story though I did really like Adrian. He's sweet, caring and capable of managing his own life when he has the opportunity. He doesn't get much of a chance to show anyone how he can behave like an adult when everyone around him assumes he is behaving like a boy and treats him like a child. He bears this with patience and good nature and loves his family anyway. He's my favorite character but the only good male in the novel.
Lady Bellingham, Deb's aunt, is an amusing scatterbrain. She can't keep her life straight. She realizes she's in trouble but doesn't know what to do about it. She can't give up living in the style she is accustomed to. Her opinions change based on the situation and she's the comic relief in the story. Max's half-sister Arabella, is a minx but she's more shrewd that he realizes. I liked that she wasn't a stereotypical vain, ditzy teenager. I would have liked more of her in the story. How her story turns out is very funny. The other men in the story are old roues with bad reputations. They frequent the Faro bank losing money, winning money and lusting after much younger women.
Lord Ormskirk isn't quite stereotypical for a "villain" character. He turned out to surprise me by not behaving as I expected. I didn't like this book much the first time I read it and this time it wasn't any better. It was disappointing not to love a Heyer novel but she wrote so many that everyone can have a favorite/s and least favorite/s!