Narrated by Marian Hussey
In Lord of Chance, the first in Erica Ridley’s new Rogues to Riches series, we are introduced to the handsome, charming Anthony Fairfax, a somewhat rackety young man who supports himself and his family by means of an inveterate gambling habit. Ms. Ridley has already released a number of her books in audio format (her Dukes of War series, narrated by Stevie Zimmermann) but this is the first I’ve listened to and I have to say that the result is a mixed bag. The narration by Marian Hussey is good, but while Ms. Ridley has a deft touch with the humour and dialogue, and she does briefly touch on a couple of darker themes, the story is a little too fluffy for my taste.
In order to escape pressing debts, Anthony Fairfax has left London to try his fortunes elsewhere. He is currently at a small inn on the Scottish border and things are looking up. On this particular night, it seems he cannot lose, and he can’t help but attribute this to the mysterious, cloaked woman he has nicknamed “Lady Fortune”, who is sitting quietly on the other side of the room. But when Lady Fortune is encouraged to join the card game, it seems she makes her own luck, because she cleans Anthony out completely and wins everything on the table.
Charlotte Devon, the daughter of an infamous London courtesan, wants nothing more than to be respectable. Unfortunately, her illegitimacy and her mother’s profession means that Charlotte was ruined before she was even born, and in an attempt to make a different life for herself, she has travelled to Scotland in search of the father she has never met. She doesn’t know his name, or where he lives, which I’d have thought rather large obstacles to finding him; all she knows is that he is a Scottish lord and that he gave her mother a very distinctive ruby necklace and set of earrings while she was in his keeping. Charlotte believes that someone is bound to recognise the jewellery and then, voilà! – she will find her father.
I rolled my eyes at this so hard my vision started to blur.
Moving on. When Anthony is escorting Charlotte from the common room, she is accosted by a drunkard so Anthony steps in to defend her, telling the man that he is her husband and will not see her insulted. Anthony spends an uncomfortable night on the sofa in Charlotte’s room, but the next morning he finds he has greater problems than a crick in the neck. He is confronted by a couple of heavies who are employed by the man – a former friend – who now owns all his debts who inform him he has exactly two weeks in which to find the two thousand pounds he owes or he’ll be hauled off to debtor’s prison.
But Anthony’s problems don’t stop there. The night before, he and Charlotte had failed to take into account that in Scotland, all one has to do to get married is to declare, before witnesses, that they are husband and wife. His chivalrous gesture the night before, in front of a roomful of people therefore means that he and Charlotte are married and that everything belonging to her – the rubies, her winnings from last night – now belongs to him and can legitimately be taken as part payment for what he owes.
Even in the short time they have known each other, Anthony has come to admire and respect Charlotte and is not about to let her get dragged down with him. Thinking he can perhaps persuade his former friend to let him pay off his debt in instalments, he starts taking odd jobs wherever he can, even though the money he earns is little more than a drop in the ocean. Things look pretty hopeless, but Anthony remains upbeat and cheerful even though time is running out. I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say that he conveniently manages to avoid prison and Charlotte’s distinctive jewellery does – also conveniently – have a part to play in repairing their fortunes.
As I said at the beginning of this review, the book is generally light-hearted in tone, although Ms. Ridley does touch on some darker themes, such as Charlotte’s search for an identity and her desire to rise above her origins and, most notably, Anthony’s gambling addiction. She describes it well, especially in one particular passage in which Anthony is basically experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. The thing is, however, that after that he has no problem whatsoever not gambling and seems to have kicked his habit without the slightest difficulty. In terms of the romance… ‘tepid’ is the word that comes to mind, because while Anthony and Charlotte banter delightfully and clearly become friends, that whole part where they actually fall in love seems to have been missed out. I heard nothing to convince me they were moving beyond anything more than friendship and a kind of acceptance of “oh, well, we’re married, he’s handsome/she’s lovely, we might as well make the best of it”. There is little chemistry between them and the book’s one love scene is rather disappointing.
Marian Hussey’s name as narrator of an historical romance is always going to get me to give it a second look, and she once again delivers an accomplished and satisfying performance. The narrative is well-paced and the dialogue is clearly differentiated by means of a variety of timbre and accent. Ms. Hussey captures Anthony’s happy-go-lucky nature and his sense of humour, but also manages to convey something deeper beneath his façade, letting listeners know that he’s not quite the useless charmer he at first appears. Her interpretation of Charlotte also adds to our understanding of the character because her hopes and fears are clearly present in her voice. The various secondary characters are all portrayed according to sex, age and station, and she employs an accent for the Scottish characters we meet in the early part of the book which is both appropriate and consistent.
Lord of Chance is one of those audiobooks that passed the time pleasantly enough, but which I can’t see myself listening to again. It’s perfectly fine – the narration is good and the story is well-told – but it’s not something I feel able to recommend strongly. If, when it comes to historical romance, your tastes run to the frothy, then it might suit you, but I generally prefer something that packs a bit more of a punch.
Book Content: C+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in (but at the very tame end)
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Erica Ridley
Lord of Chance was provided to AudioGals by Erica Ridley for a review.