Maya Rodale has been called “one of the freshest, most delightful new voices in romantic fiction” by her publisher, Avon Books, and perhaps that’s why her newest historical romance A TALE OF TWO LOVERS tries so hard to be something it’s not. The premise is original in that a woman writes a gossip column called “Fashionable Intelligence” in 1823 for the London Weekly as “the Lady of Distinction.” The writer’s name is Lady Julianna Somerset, and she regularly goes to balls, routs, masquerades, etc., because she is a titled widow. But her late husband didn’t leave her with a lot of money, so she had to do something to support herself — thus, this gossip column.
As the Lady of Distinction, she sees something between Lord Simon Roxbury and another man that looks suspiciously like a romantic clinch, and she writes about it. (Whether this is something that would really be written about in 1823 is debatable, but this is the premise of the novel.) Roxbury is known as a womanizer — a passionate womanizer who’s slept with nearly every eligible woman in town, and quite a few who aren’t. But this news in a major London paper has hurt him at the worst possible time; he’s been given an ultimatum to marry, or else. Yet no one will have him because of the salacious gossip.
So Lord Roxbury and Lady Somerset enter into a marriage of convenience. They spar verbally, they spar physically (Roxbury even teaches her how to box, in case she needs to defend herself), and eventually he fully gets behind his wife’s writing. (Once again, I’m not certain a man of his station in 1823 is likely to do this. Writing by itself, I can grant — there’s enough historical precedent for it — but considering she writes a notorious gossip column, that really seems like a stretch. But it is the premise of the novel.)
Here’s the most troublesome piece of writing in this novel, about a rival gossip columnist:
From page 368-9:
The first rule of the Man About Town is that you do not speak of the Man About Town.
Of course, all of London breaks this regularly and the Lady of Distinction shall be no exception because this lady has news about the gentleman — or gentlemen? — that composes that popular column in a small room in High Holborn. This lady learned the secrets of the Man About Town and might reveal them at any time.
Now, this is just ridiculous, all of it. First, the reason Lady Somerset (now Lady Roxbury) knows all this is because her husband, Roxbury, helped her figure it out. Second, to say that she “knows all” and “could reveal it” at any time is also absurd because that’s obvious by the way she’s written this up. And third, and by far the worst, is that this echoes too nearly the line from the contemporary movie Fight Club – that being, “The first rule of the fight club is never to speak of the fight club.” — and is not something anyone would’ve said in 1823.
This is one of Rodale’s “Writing Girls” novels, and the period detailing of the balls, masquerades, etc., is spot on. Most of the dialogue works. The romance is acceptable, though I really had a hard time believing that a notorious rake like Roxbury would settle down with Lady Somerset, even if she had inadvertently “outed” him in a way that wasn’t truthful and felt responsible for his social ostracization.
But here’s the main problem I had with this novel — it tries too hard to do something different, and it just doesn’t work. Way too much of what drives this novel is not just implausible, but wildly implausible considering that this is supposedly happening in 1823 — not 1923, where much of this exact, same plot would’ve worked far better.
My view is that if you like originality and can gloss over the fact that this plot never could’ve happened in 1823, you’ll enjoy A TALE OF TWO LOVERS because the writing is witty, the dialogue is crisp, the detailing is fine and overall, it’s a fun book to read. But if you’re like me and demand historical authenticity in your plot construction, you should avoid it because despite all of its pluses, that one, big minus will throw you out of the reading trance over and over again.
– reviewed by Barb