Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Lady Most Likely: A novel in three parts by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockaway

Hugh Dunne, the Earl of Briarly, has recently suffered a near-death experience, being almost killed by a horse he was training. Since he trains all his horses by the hands-on method, this is perhaps understandable, but the resulting damage to him has made him aware that he isn't invulnerable and that it is past time for him to settle down and sire an heir to his vast estate, to ensure the succession, since if he dies, his estate goes to a cousin who is utterly unsuited to running the place and who would drive it into the ground.

Since he hasn't had any interest in socializing with the current crop of debutantes and beauties, he goes to his sister, who herself is already married to a man she loves and adores, and begs her to help him find a crop of beauties and heiresses to whom he could possibly make a marriage to. With her when he asks her is his old friend, Lady Georgina Sorrell, a widow who has expressed no interest in marrying again after her marriage to a man of fashion.

His sister has the idea of throwing a house party and inviting all the fashionable and single ladies, along with a number of men so that it's not just a bunch of women and one man, the Earl, Along with Georgina, she invites the singular beauty of the season, Miss Gwendolyn Passmore, the Earl of Charters, Alec Darlington, Neill Oakes, a war hero, and Katharine Peyton, an outspoken young Miss.

But Hugh, although he may find romance in the offing, will be beaten to the altar by other young gentlemen at the party when two women he shows an interest in are snapped up before he do any more than talk to them. Gwendolyn Passmore is lovely, but shy. Twice denied her season by circumstances beyond her control, she has found no man worth marrying in her entire season and wonders why, despite her vaunted beauty, her painful social shyness makes people, especially other women, treat her badly.

Alec Darlington has only heard of Gwendolyn from his sister, who thinks of Gwen as horrible and stuck up, not realizing what keeps her apart from others is her painful shyness. But his sister thinks of Gwen as a shark, taking away men who might have otherwise paid attention to her. When Alec realizes he is falling for the woman his sister despises, can he make both of them see the light, and become friends, or is that a task beyond his capacity?

And when Katharine Peyton's brother decides to abandon the house party and leave the protection of his sister in the hands of Neill Oakes, his next door neighbor and former friend, can Neill face up to the fact that Katharine, whom he once loved and realizes he is still in love with, seems to think him cruel for abandoning her for a post in the army after they once shared a kiss?

In truth, he left because her father told Neill that he would not accept Neill's suit for Katharine's hand because of Neill's reputation as a rogue and a hellraiser. And he left to try to make something of himself in her father's eyes. But Katharine has her own secrets, and she never answered his letters to her, ripping them up as soon as she received them. But can they make their peace and find a way to rekindle the love they shared?

Finally, Hugh finds himself in the company of Georgina, and discovers that the young girl he once played with as a child is now all grown up and worthy of his attention. Except that Georgina doesn't want to marry anyone after realizing that her deceased husband, who she married because he was always laughing and seemed a merry person, was actually laughing at the faults of others. He didn't laugh at hers... unless he was really angry at her. But can she realize that she still has feelings for Hugh and perhaps she isn't as opposed to marriage as she thought... if it's Hugh she is going to marry...

I liked this book, which instead of being told as three separate short stories, was much less segregated. The story is set up by, presumably, all three authors, and then each story is told by a different author. Julia Quinn takes Miss Gwendolyn Passmore and the Earl of Charters, Connie Brockaway the story of Neill Oakes and Katharine Peyton, and Eloisa James finishes out the book with Hugh Dunne and Georgina Sorrell. Instead of being broken up into separate stories, each is related in a series of chapters, and the first chapter of the new story has the characters (and Hugh) reacting to the fact that so and so is no longer available to wed.

It's a conceit that works admirably well for the story and the book, making it seem far more polished and connected a work than three separate stories, each with a different title, and separated with a title page and author attribution. The only way you can tell who the writer is, is to look at author attribution at the top of the page. Nothing else sets the stories apart. The work of all three authors flow together well and if they hadn't said which author was which at the top of the page, I would have been hard-pressed to tell which author wrote which part of the book.

This book may have been something new for the publishers to try, but I liked it and I think it worked. I hope shared book stories like this happen more often in the future, as I consider this one a stunning success. With the right authors, and the right scenario, I'd like to see more books like this in the future. Highly recommended.

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