May 2 2011 9:00am

Fresh Meat: Vanessa Kelly’s My Favorite Countess

Vanessa Kelly
My Favorite Countess
Kensington, May 3, 2011, $6.99

Spirited, stubborn, and entirely irresistible...

She is difficult, demanding, and at times, quite fierce.  And Dr. John Blackmore can't take his eyes off her. The Countess of Randolph is the most striking woman he has ever seen...and the most infuriating patient he has ever tended.

Mired in responsibility, Bathsheba doesn't have time to convalesce in the country. She should be in London, hunting for a wealthy new lover to pay off her late husband's vast debts, not dallying with a devastatingly handsome doctor.

But it is only a matter of time until the good doctor and the obstinate countess will have to contend with the sparks that fly between them. Once their bodies surrender, their hearts may follow...

Bathsheba Compton, Countess of Randolph is a countess, a widow—and a selective courtesan. She'd set the ton on its ear in Vanessa Kelly's Sex and the Single Earl, by making a public bid for the Earl of Trask and attempting to break up his marriage. In My Favorite Countess, she's got the starring role. It takes a lot of writing chutzpah to take on a character such as Bathsheba and redeem her character.

Many books depict the man as a beast who is redeemed by the woman whom he loves and who loves him unconditionally. This book reverses the roles; Bathsheba has been depicted as grasping, mercenary, selfish, vain, and ruthless. Dr. John Blackmore is kind, thoughtful, quietly courageous, persistent, and fair. He's ahead of his times doing obstetrics when it was still a field looked down upon, and he's a Good Samaritan, working pro bono in the slums.

The book starts out explaining her character and who she is at the present time. What we see is a person who's been abused and has learnt the hard way to be self-reliant. She trusts no one, and cannot believe that anyone truly wants to be with her and wants to help her.

The other side of the coin is that she feels envy at the sight of other women's happiness because she's so alone. And yet, whenever anyone shows the slightest emotional interest in her, she drives him away with hard words. She rejects that what she most needs. In other words, she's self-destructive. In modern parlance, she'd be depressed. Her near constant headaches are another indicator. 

“I believe you suffer from a lack of purpose that causes you to dwell too much on the troubles in your life. You're much too intelligent to lead such an idle existence.”

And then comes pragmatic and caring Dr. Blackmore; he can truly empathize with her past and her present. And even after he proves that he can care financially for her and her sister, she still holds him at arms-length with cutting words, because he looks too good to be true. She cannot believe that someone like her deserves someone like him.

It's a testament to his strong will and empathy that he stays true to her; even when she tries her hardest to push him away, he refuses to go away. He's there through thick and thin; no matter what dark secrets she reveals, no matter what harsh language she uses, no matter what her past dredges up, none of it matters. He has a read on her character, and he believes that the face she shows to the world is a mask:

“Why are you acting so foolishly? This isn't who you are—I know it.”

Her character is the one that undergoes a sea change in this book from scared and scarred to caring, understanding, and confident. His love and steadfastness truly frees her to trust him and then to trust herself. Brava to Bathsheba, and brava to the author. 

Given that Bathsheba has always done the heavy lifting, through her affairs with wealthy men, of financing the earldom and the care of her sister, I found it surprising that she's unable to get out and about more and find similar options in this book. The story of her complete emotional dependence on the doctor feels a little stilted for her character. Also inexplicable is the very slow recovery from the lung infection in someone as healthy as she is. But these are mere quibbles in an otherwise exciting and gutsy book that tackles a difficult character and remakes her.


Keira Soleore is an aspiring Medieval & Regency historical romance writer and the comments moderator for  IASPR's Journal of Popular Romance Studies. On the web, she can found on at Cogitations & Meditations, on her website, and on Facebook. She also tweets.

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1 comment
Cate Sparks
1. Cate Sparks
I'm looking forward to reading something with a twist on the usual plot!
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