While it’s fascinating to explore the exquisite manners and rigid expectations of high society in any era, it’s always deliciously exciting to see someone escape the lock-stepping pack and choose a different path. That’s why it’s so engaging to see the hero and heroine of this story—aristocrats in the stiflingly proper Victorian era—cut loose and go on a scandalous adventure. (Each chapter is headed with a tongue-in-cheek piece of advice directed to the heroine, from the heroine, presented guidebook-style as excerpts from Lady Ida’s Tips for the Adventurous Lady Traveler.)
Lady Ida herself is beautiful, rich and wellborn—but she’s considered unmarriageable because she’s also opinionated, outspoken and bookish. London’s society is a prison for her where she’s expected to simper and smile at men who earnestly mansplain to her that “breaking the fast” with breakfast doesn’t require her to break anything. She’s desperate for a way out and eagerly seizes an opportunity to “borrow” a carriage and just go. Her destination is an obscure little town where her disgraced sister, Della, has taken refuge. Ida wants to bring Della back into the family fold, but most of all, Ida just wants to get away. If it ruins her reputation, all the better.
Little does she know that Bennett, Lord Carson, is stowed away in the carriage she’s appropriated. As he is known for his intelligence, courteousness and ironclad sense of responsibility, it’s not surprising that he insists on accompanying her—it would be ungentlemanly to let her travel alone. The surprise comes when what starts as a duty quickly becomes a pleasure as he enjoys talking to a woman who has no interest in discussing the weather or anyone’s health. They banter, they argue, they discuss which animals they most resemble. (“Hedgehog” becomes his favorite term of endearment for her.) They fall into bed together—and of course, they fall in love.
Instead of the airless feel that sometimes defines Victorian-era stories, this book feels more like a freewheeling road trip rom-com in which two opposites learn just how deeply they attract. (I caught the occasional homage to some classics in this genre, including the originator—It Happened One Night.) The story and the writing are as fun and vibrant as the book’s protagonists, and while the happily ever after is a given, it really is all about the madcap journey they take to get there.