If You Give a Girl a Viscount
St. Martin’s, $7.99, Nov. 1, 2011
If life were a fairy tale, Daisy Montgomery’s stepmother and two stepsisters would surely be cast in the wicked roles. For years, they’ve made life miserable for Daisy. But when she discovers she has a godmother, she’s determined to ask her for help. Little did Daisy expect her godmother to play matchmaker with her very own grandson—who happens to be a viscount!
A freewheeling playboy, Charles Thorpe, Viscount Lumley, is bored with his wealth-seeking female admirers. Not only that, he’s been cut off from the family coffers. One day, on a bet, he rids himself of what little money he has left in his pockets and vows to solve problems using his wits alone. But when the Impossible Bachelor is confronted with Daisy’s plan to save her castle, the payoff is more than he could have bargained for. Sometimes, if you give a girl a viscount, you just might find love….
What is the enduring appeal of fairytales? Is it the allure of an escape from the realities of day-to-day existence—with a guaranteed Happy Ever After at the end? Are fairytales the original “Calgon, take me away” therapy, coming in the form of words, not bubbles? Consider that Cinderella, the quintessential fairytale heroine, might also be dreaming herself into a happier place.
Daisy Montgomery, the heroine of If You Give a Girl a Viscount by Kieran Kramer, is in trouble. She needs money to save her castle and that’s not the half of it.
On a sunny afternoon high in the left turret of a small, crumbling castle in the northwest of Scotland, Highland lass Daisy Montgomery scrubbed the hearthstones in her bedchamber and dreamed of finding her prince. He’ll make me laugh, she thought, wringing out her rag in a bucket of cold water. Then, as she applied all her muscle to the coal-black stone, I’ll make him laugh.
And with that great opening, we’re in Cinderella territory. Albeit with a saucy 21st century update to Cinderella’s wish list—but all the traditional props are there. The wicked stepmother and her two daughters are there also, but they’re modernized, too. Mona, the cruel yet oblivious stepmother, is an incipient alcoholic, but the two step-sisters, Cassandra & Perdita are not oblivious like their mother; Cassandra, in particular, is smart.
In classic fairy tale tradition, there are servants who are loyal to Daisy, the daughter of the manor. And every heroine needs a hero—meet Charlie, a viscount, who is sent by Daisy’s godmother to save the day. He discusses his plans with his three best friends (all heroes in their own right, of earlier Kieran Kramer historicals). He’s not quite sure he wants to leave the familiar for a Scottish quest, but his friends are all in favour of him embracing this opportunity, particularly given his options:
“Lady Pinckney’s a spitfire, but it can’t be too taxing looking after an elderly woman’s affairs, can it? At least in comparison to your usual endeavors.”
“Wining and dining widows and actresses, and making money hand over fist, you mean,” interjected Stephen Arrow, a captain in the Royal Navy who was now on a new adventure as a landlubber—a married one, at that.
In the old days, Charlie would have chuckled at Stephen’s comment. But he was far too cynical and jaded these days to do that. “You must admit it takes some skill to do either.” He paused. “Especially at the same time.”
“Is that possible?” Nicholas Staunton
Kramer deftly sets the stage: the jaded, wealthy aristocrat, for whom all pleasures have palled, plus he’s a crazy man when it comes to money and mistresses. His family has cut him off from the family coffers. What does he need? His three best friends will doubtless have some ideas and they do—a quest to the back of beyond in Scotland—to rescue one of his grandmother’s goddaughters, without taking a single cent to aid him on his journey. When Charlie finally arrives in Scotland and meets Daisy, it’s difficult to say who’s more disappointed. Family legend has it that a Golden Prince will save the day.
The viscount looked like the Golden Prince.
In his state of disarray, Daisy rather thought he looked more like the Golden Prince’s bad twin.
Turning fairytales upside down, the heroine looks bad: Stressed, gaunt, pinched. Charlie is not impressed, particularly when the first words out of her mouth are to hit him up for money he doesn’t have. Not exactly a “meet cute.”
She was the grasping one. She was the one—
He opened his mouth to speak—he wasn’t sure what he was going to say—but she put up a hand. “Enough with our disagreement. Let’s appreciate the irony that in place of my silly fantasy, what I got instead is a quarrelsome man with a black eye, reeking of the tavern and the stables.”
Charlie and Daisy set animosity aside in order to have a frank, honest discussion about money. It turns out that Miss Montgomery is Charlie’s fiancée—unbeknownst to either of them—and the two of them spin quite a tale to convince the skeptical step-mother and step-sisters that their love is for real.
“I didn’t cry,” the viscount insisted, completely unruffled and still gazing at Daisy adoringly. “I merely moaned. Once. In my sleep. I think it was indigestion.”
“But you said it woke the neighbors,” Daisy said, looking deep into his eyes. It was so difficult to appear besotted when you were aggravated. “And you told them that was the last straw. You had to come see me. You said something about how love was better than . . . petting a lamb with brown eyes. Or a pudding.”
“Funny,” he answered her, his eyes sparking with a message that she read loud and clear as: You. Will. Pay. And it won’t be pretty. “I don’t remember that part.”
This was the passage that won me over. For everyone who’s been missing early Julia Quinn and has The Viscount Who Loved Me on their forever favourite lists, the fun, spit and sizzle of a well-matched couple is back. Charlie is endlessly inventive at finding reasons to spend time with Daisy, like when he asks her to show him how to fish in her waters. Who doesn’t love a hero that applauds a heroine’s skills and who puts himself in her hands?
“Perhaps you can show me your angler’s tricks while I’m here,” he said to Daisy. “I find I always learn something new about fishing from the locals. Especially the ones kind enough to tolerate my own attempts not only to catch something in their waters but to surpass their own catch. It’s very rude of me. But if you can endure my competitive nature, I’d be much obliged.”
The best comedy always had a sad undercurrent; Daisy has had to live with the presumption that she was a wanton and that anguish over her reputation caused her father’s death. Although Kramer writes in a lighter vein, Daisy reminded me of Chastity, the heroine of Jo Beverley’s Lady Notorious, another young girl who has had the joy of early womanhood stolen from her. But perhaps in Charlie, Daisy has met the historical equivalent of The Big Easy’s Remy, the cocky Cajun played by gorgeous Dennis Quaid, who tells the staid and sober Ellen Barkin that her luck in men is about to change.
Charlie cocked his head, as if he were listening for distant music or sensed something out of the ordinary. “It’s strange country up here in the Highlands,” he said quietly. “It seems anything could happen.”
He looked at her again, and she felt it, too . . . something tantalizing. Something just out of reach. But what ever it was, she would find it someday. And when she did, she would hold it close and never let it go.
A theme that recurs in all of Kieran Kramer’s books is that a hero and heroine in love are a force to be reckoned with—that lust and love and longing can also find room for working together to solve problems, both for themselves and for their wider community. Charlie and Daisy plan an event to draw rich tourists to their highland castle because fun whilst rebuilding can be such an enticing combination. Because this is a modern fairytale, Cinderella will rescue her Prince as effectively as he paves the way for her future happiness.
“You’re at my beck and call, remember?” She paused. “I know you won’t dishonor me. And you promised me anything. Anything.”
He’d never seen her so solemn.
He put his hands on her rounded bottom and pulled her firmly against his hips. “You’re right. I would never dishonor you, or allow anyone else to. And I did make that promise.”
She gripped his neck. “Show me how beautiful I am,” she whispered. “Please. Before I have to go back tonight and pack the trunks of three harridans.”
If your prince is a pauper or living on his wits, perhaps the silver lining is that you discover what sort of man he is. During the course of their love story, Daisy and Charlie both discard their disguises and become the people they were meant to be. Let’s leave the two under the covers, as Daisy reads Robbie Burns to Charlie, to the accompaniment of some luscious loving-up:
And that was only the kissing part. Charlie had never, ever felt so exhilarated by mere kissing.
But he was kissing her.
The girl who’d made everything different. And not because she was a Highland lass. Not because her voice was like buzzing bumblebees. Nor was it because she had an outlandish sense of adventure.
It was because of how she looked at him.
If a fanciful, merry journey to true love appeals to you, you’ll enjoy your time in these highlands.
Janet Webb, Book Lovers Resource