Ugh! What an execrable title for such a good book! I've read a few reviews of HTSAB that were really quite critical of Daisy and Lee. But for me, these two are the shiny bits in this book. Though the story is not so unique as far as historicals go, I loved both Daisy and Lee and found them each unforgettable in their own separate ways as well as together.
Daisy Tanner is unusual in that she is a convict who was transported to Botany Bay in New South Wales because she aided her father in poaching from a neighbor's estate. On board the ship, her father essentially ordered 16-year-old Daisy to marry one of the guards, the brutish much older Tanner, who would "protect" her from the other guards and prisoners. But Tanner sorely abused the young Daisy, and thankfully she has been widowed for two years and looked forward to enjoying her freedom. But Daisy is very attractive and very rich and is soon beset by any and all eligible males in Botany Bay trying to lure her into wedlock or affairs of the heart. So she decides the only way she'll be left alone is to marry again but only a certain type of man, a husband who won't be interested in all that "cuddling and knocking nonsense." Yes, she has issues regarding physical intimacy. She returns to England to find just that man, the "bookish, reclusive" Geoffrey Sauvage, Earl of Egremont, a man with a "gentle nature" and one man she considered a friend at Botany Bay. To Daisy, he is perfect for two reasons: he is much older than she and thus not interested in sex (or so she believes) and he already has an heir.
She didn't plan to marry for love or money, just for security and a place to belong, a place where she could stay on in peace, unmolested. She'd never be free until she was married, and then if she had a husband who simply cared for her like a father or a friend, it would be bliss. (41-42)
Daisy has justifiable reasons to be bitter and cynical - Tanner shouted, ordered, beat and struck her for speaking and then again for not speaking, for a million and one reasons known only to him but mostly he hit her "for being who she was", a a young lady of "superior breeding, knowledge, and spirit." But she is neither bitter nor cynical. Instead, she has an indomitable spirit, is honest to a fault, bright, cheerful, exuberant even, but with a very healthy dose of realism. Daisy knows what's what. I really did fall in love with her almost immediately.
Leland Grant, Viscount Haye, has a way with women. I loved that he is not handsome in the accepted sense of the word. Instead, he is just past 30, tall, very thin, "with a long, bony, elegant face, and was languid and affected in speech and movement." Though he appears not to have a care for anything, Leland is a kind and gentle man with an even stronger "sense of justice." He also has a reputed "killing wit." I confess, I loved his sense of humor which more often than not was directed at himself. For instance, when the Earl of Egremont introduces him to an old friend from Botany Bay, a beautiful and seductive actress, Leland takes advantage of their mutual attraction and pursues the actress. But he heeds Geoffrey's amused warning not to drink anything she doesn't drink first. The next day, he learns that the actress had a "fair hand with a lethal flying object" not poison as Geoffrey implied.
Leland laughed. "Score one for you! I took your bait and ran with it. Though we parted on amicable terms, she must have thought me a strange fellow, because brave I may be, but I didn't dare take wine with her." (15)
His attraction to the opposite sex is puzzling to most people, even, at times, to his friend, Geoffrey.
"I don't know how you do it, Lee," he commented as the butler went to show his guest in. "But you have a profound effect on females."
Leland wore a rueful expression. He shrugged. "Actually I don't know why, either. I see no reason why a lovely creature like that should fling herself at ridiculous, long-nosed, affected creature like me. It can't have been for money. She isn't a courtesan; she has talent and fame and earns a comfortable living. Mind, I do have my ways, and if I set a trap I expect to catch something. If I don't, I start worrying why anyone would want to catch me. It's what made me effective in France when I went there on His Majesty's behalf. I suppose it's also why I'm still single." (16)
Leland is soon lassoed into helping Daisy find a suitable companion for respectability, locate proper lodgings, and ordering new gowns. Leland, you see, is also a "tulip of the ton", the "very pinnacle of frivolous knowledge." And, willing or not, he is fascinated by Daisy. Daisy, in turn, recognizes the curiosity and amusement in his watchful eyes and admits that he makes her "uncomfortable" though she's not sure exactly why.
The banter and badinage between Daisy and Leland made me smile time after time. When Geoffrey asks about her plans now that she's back in London, it turns into a back and forth between her and Leland, with Daisy playing her cards close to her vest about any marital possibilities.
"That's just it," she said. "I don't know. My greatest plan was to get here. I can't believe that I actually did that. Now? I suppose I want to find a place for myself."
"Not a husband?" a cool, amused voice drawled. "That is what most single females I know are after."
"But I'm not one of them, am I?" She replied as sweetly. "And you don't know me."
"Alas, my loss, which I feel more acutely each moment," the viscount said, a hand on his heart.
"Are you sure?" she asked. "How many ladies do you number among your acquaintances who were jailed and then sent to the Antipodes? Not a whole lot, I'd wager," she said with a roguish wink at Geoff. (29)
For the first time in a long time, Leland is surprised that a woman appears not to be interested in him. Instead, she has eyes only for Geoffrey. I enjoyed the part where Daffyd, Lee's half brother, teases him about Daisy's lack of interest in him, comparing his haughty look to his "famous offended camel look."
When a mysterious person brings a charge of murder against Daisy and produces a witness to that murder of her first husband Tanner, the only way to protect her from jail or transportation again is for her to be married to someone whose name and title can protect her. Daisy is then forced to choose between Geoffrey and Leland. I really wasn't sure which man she would choose as the entire passage leading up to her marriage was written in such an ambiguous fashion so as to keep you guessing until you know for sure which man is the groom and which is the best man. Of course, by the time Daisy and Leland are married and alone for the first time as man and wife, she is a bundle of nerves. Leland doesn't help matters when he undresses down to his skin in front of her, and then his trademark self-deprecating humor comes to the rescue once again even as Daisy begins to worry about a naked male body and how it can be used as a weapon.
He emerged from the dressing room holding two nightshirts. One was plain and white, the other was cream-colored with embroidery on the neck.
"Now this one," he said, holding it up in front of him, "is classic. Very simple, very tasteful. But this one," he said, switching hands and holding up the other, "is the latest word in France, or so I hear. Which do you like?"
"I don't know," she managed to say. "Either."
"Well, to tell you the truth I don't care for either," he told her. "You see, I don't like to sleep in anything but my skin, but I am trying to be sensible of your sensibilities. Wait a moment, I think I have just the thing!"
He disappeared into the dressing room, and came out holding his hands out as though he'd just pulled a rabbit from a hat, like a magician on the stage about to take a bow. Now he wore a colorful red silk dressing gown, sashed in gold. "Voila!" he said. He turned for her, head high, nose in the air, like a fashion model at madame's shop. "What do you think?"
She didn't know what to say.
"I agree," he said sadly. "Outrageously opulent, not my style at all."
He turned, very dejected, to go back to the dressing room.
"Wait!" she said. "Do you really think what you wear to sleep is important?"
He looked at her in shock. "My dear," he said, "a man of taste never slacks off, even in his slumbers. And, I remind you, I can't have you thinking your new husband is careless, can I? It's obvious this doesn't impress you, but I have a blue satin one that I thought was too simple. Now I think perhaps it will be the very thing."
She just sat and stared at him. That was how she saw his lips quirk. "Good God!" he said. "Your expression!" And then he began to laugh.
She joined in, as relieved as she was amused. He came over to the bed. "Well, I had to think of something to unknot you," he said with a tender smile. "You looked as though you expected me to come out with whips and chains." (321-323)
Lee's humor and patience and his willingness to listen, to just listen, to Daisy is the healing balm she needs. Though he longs for a physical relationship with Daisy, he doesn't push her in any way or make her feel threatened. Instead he shows Daisy in the best way he can that she can trust him not to hurt her and he does that at first with just "quips and laughter." Leland is a man who understands insecurity and lack of confidence and the way people hurt others. He learned early in life to use a sense of humor for his strength. He'd been "gangly and awkward" as a young man, just as likely to trip over things and stammer as not. Being heir to his father did not insure a long list of young ladies panting to take him on. He'd been an object of fun and ridicule for them. So he began acting the fop, developing a cynical air, an "acid wit", a man who cared for nothing but fashion and frivolity. By the time his father had died, Leland had perfected his new persona and now ladies of good reputation (and not so good) were drawn to him. Unfortunately, his lovers didn't want to know the real Leland and so the mask he wore in public became a mask he continued to wear in private. But he always longed for someone who will laugh with him, not just at him. And that person is Daisy.
"...he'd hung his heart on the whims of a female with an angelic face and a devil of a body, a criminal past; a widow who feared men and who wasn't sure if she wanted so much as his hand, even in marriage. But she also possessed a spirit as fiery as her hair, and a code of honor that could shame a parson.
Was he mad?
He hardly knew her - but no. He smiled to himself. He knew her better than most of the women matchmakers had thrown at his head all these past years. He knew her better than any of the young things he'd danced with at Almack's and partnered at too many social events. He knew her far better than most women he'd bedded, even those he'd stayed with as long as a month.
Daisy, he thought, he could stay with forever. He liked her conversation; he admired her courage. He could amuse her, but she could make him laugh, too. And most important, he felt at home with her. (263-264)
5 unabashed stars