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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rogue Novel by Jo Beverley Anyone?

Lady Beware
By Jo Beverley
Historical romance
ISBN 978-0-451-22149-0
Signet, $ 7.99, PG-13
5 hearts

Reviewed by Mary Benn for the Romance Reader


Jo Beverley carries off a remarkable achievement in Lady Beware, the latest and
possibly last in her Company of Rogue novels. In a world where the loud, the
graphic and the sensational sell, she cultivates a silent and subtle build-up
but rocks her readers to their core. Her craft deserves close attention, but it
is the unusual combination of familial comfort and risqué pleasure that makes
this book a winner.

Horatio Cave, Lord Darien attended Eton at the same time as the Rogues, but he
was not admitted into their exulted company. His violent and scandalous family
history, which includes murder, madness and Italian opera singers, had already
branded him. His belligerent behavior didn't help. Even good-natured Dare (the
opium-addicted hero of To Rescue a Rogue) took issue and warned, "Cave Canem."
Well versed in Latin, the Eton schoolboys immediately recognized the pun (the
inscription cave canem, or "Beware the Dog", was carved on the doors of Roman
homes). The name stuck, and Cave has never forgiven Dare or the Rogues for it.


In the meantime, Cave has made a very different name for himself as a hero of
the Napoleonic wars. His bravery isn't enough to whitewash his family name. So
when Dare's honor in the battlefield is questioned, he sees it as an
opportunity to redeem himself. He coerces Dare's sister Thea Debenham into
accepting a bargain: if she acts as his betrothed, thereby gaining him the
social respect he craves, he will clear her brother's reputation.

It is easy to see what this set up could have become: a predictable story about
a false engagement that eventually becomes a real one. That is not the path
Thea and Cave take. He immediately does his part but allows Thea to withdraw
from hers. Her mother, on the other hand, is determined to pay off the family
debt . More naturally cautious, Thea remains wary of this dark, dangerous
stranger, but she is also intrigued — and secretly thrilled.

Beverley brings her characters to life by examining them in their social
universe. A former soldier, Cave is very much a man's man, and it is mostly
through his interaction with other men that we discover his loyalty and
decency. He deploys all the authority which goes with his rank, but never
abuses it: there is no condescension or false camaraderie in his concern for
his former soldiers. Similarly, Thea's unspoken anxieties and elegant poise are
seen most clearly in her family relationships and her female friendships.

Beverley ensures her characters are multifaceted and doesn't overlook the
erotic dimension of Thea and Cave's relationship. She pens several daring
encounters, but overall subtlety is the key to her art. In one scene, Cave
strokes Thea's gloved finger with his. There is more sensual tension in that
caress than in some of the most explicit descriptions I have recently read.

Throughout the novel, Beverley sets her own leisurely pace and draws her
enraptured readers towards a firework finale. Ominous hints maintain the
novel's tension and the reader's curiosity. The bad things come as no surprise
but still hold us at a fever pitch.

No doubt about it: Lady Beware is yet another jewel in Beverley's heavily-
decorated crown.

-----
Jo Beverley "Arguably today's most skillful writer of historical
romance..." Publishers Weekly
5 time winner of the prestigious RITA award.
"Romance at its best." Romantic Times.

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