With the third novel in her debut trilogy, Tessa Dare effectively wins the triple crown, hits a grand slam, insert any other metaphor related to the number three here, etc. A Lady of Persuasion, much like Goddess of the Hunt and Surrender of a Siren before it, proves to be a truly enjoyable reading experience and a book that revitalizes and reconfigures the romantic historical genre.
I admit I had reservations going in, not having formed much of an opinion of Toby Aldridge and Isabel Grayson from their previous appearances in Dare’s work. Toby felt like a standard not-the-hero kind of guy and Isabel, in her brief appearance in Surrender of a Siren, seemed a staid reformer. But I forgot that, in essence, I was seeing Toby and Isabel through the eyes of others. If Toby was such a catch to Lucy or Sophia, where would their stories with Jeremy and Gray have been, right? Of course you never get a full picture of who a character is until it’s their perspective you’re looking through! And the story that Dare built around Toby and Bel was perfect. It fleshed them out, made them rich, beautiful characters, and delivered a wonderful payoff. (Let’s just say that a key scene towards the end had me laughing my ass off in a pub as I sipped a dwindling glass of pinot grigio.)
Dare again takes the conventions of your standard romance — a sudden proposal, an impulsive marriage between veritable strangers — and turns them on their ear. Toby and Isabel bloom under her careful hand, emerging as a man and woman trying to reconcile who they truly are with the expectations of who they ought to be.
Isabel, a twenty year old naif from Tortola, is so desperate to quell the passionate side of her nature, that she throws all that passion into good works and charitable causes. And Toby, still bruised from Sophia jilting him, sees in Isabel a chance to get back at Bel’s brother Gray, who he thinks “stole” Sophia from him. Only…not really. Quickly enough the reader gleans that Toby is just a man who wants to love and be loved, and this remarkable, unique beauty sets them both on a course to realizing what they truly want out of life.
I laughed with them, I choked up at the appropriate moments (Chapter Twenty-One, oh my goodness), and reveled in the inclusion of Lucy and Jem, Sophia and Gray, and the secondary story of Joss and Hetta trying to shed their protective layers and find love. Dare built a family, a community, in these books, and the camaraderie and banter and essence of these characters shines through. They’re genuinely funny, human and flawed, and incredibly memorable.
And, seriously, Dare needs to release Memoirs of a Wanton Dairymaid, which plays a key role in all three of her novels, as its own erotic novella. Because That Book must be a doozy!