True enemies-to-lovers romances are both less plentiful than many readers would like and extremely hard to execute. Too much hostility and things can get ugly; too little tension and the whole thing fizzles. Demand for this popular trope tends to outstrip supply. But where others falter, An Extraordinary Lord handily succeeds, in large part because of its original premise. Its leads are natural enemies with real skin in the game and the stakes are sky-high.
Loosely inspired by the Spa Fields Riots, an intriguing bit of British political history in which activists advocating for electoral reform and economic relief instigated riots in an attempt to topple the government, Anna Harrington’s third Lords of the Armory romance is not a typical historical. Like a Regency-era forerunner to Batman, Lord Merritt Rivers is haunted by a tragic loss and obsessed with law and order. He works as a barrister by day and roams the streets of London at night, dressed in a costume of all black, determined to prevent crime before it happens and keep the innocent safe. This alter ego doesn’t have a name, but he tries one or two on for size (The Night Guardian, the City Watchman, etc.). Veronica “Roni” Chase, on the other hand, is a thief-taker. Morally gray with the permits to prove it, Veronica makes her living catching thieves and turning them in for profit. When the two meet one night on the streets, Veronica could easily end up back in jail. As far as Merritt is concerned, thief-takers like Veronica are part of the problem:
“Merritt had no patience for them, knowing they were profiting off the riots as much as the men they captured. But this one . . . Sweet Lucifer. He’d never seen one like her before. Hell, he’d never seen a female thief-taker at all.”
A series of suspiciously organized riots is putting London on the edge of turmoil and potentially undermining the regent. Merritt is helping the Home Office pinpoint the manipulative masterminds and mischief-makers behind the scenes, and he thinks Veronica might be one of them. His initial investigation into the mysterious beauty absolves her of that crime, but also reveals that she served time for a crime she didn’t commit and has been hiding under a different name after breaking out of prison. Intrigued and with his eyes on a bigger prize, Merritt offers a deal rather than turn Veronica in. She’ll help him investigate the riots and he’ll secure a full pardon for her in return—a perfect setup for enemies to become lovers.
An Extraordinary Lord includes ample tropes, all well deployed—Merritt and Veronica are enemies and opposites forced into close proximity for a limited time—but it’s to Harrington’s credit that her hero and heroine feel like unique creations with multiple dimensions and original facets. Veronica wields a knife with terrifying aplomb, but she also knows her way around a ballroom. She has the sensibilities and social awareness of a radical, but also lets herself revel in the beauty of a glittering party. Merritt is a gentleman with aristocratic connections, but he works hard for a living and actually has to think about the money he spends. And he wasn’t born into a title. Together, they navigate an interesting blend of rarified spaces and dangerous streets, with great banter and excellent physical chemistry wherever they go. But it’s the premise, its rich grounding in history and the palpable suspense that really set An Extraordinary Lord apart.