In 1817 London, 20-year-old heroine Georgette Frost, “accustomed to flights of imagination” leaves the family business, Frost’s Bookshop, to seek her fortune, in pursuit of reward money for locating 50 000 Royal Mint stolen gold sovereigns. Hero Sir Hugo Starling, 32, Georgette-described “hawkish of feature, and stuffy of temperament … [r]epresentative of everything chill and sterile about the life of the mind: study, solitude, and sternness,” discovers boy-clad Georgette on her way to adventure and fortune. As a self-styled stodgy rescuer of females and taker-carers of everyone, doctor and younger son of a duke, Hugo cannot allow Georgette to proceed on her foolish errand without protection. He resolves to return her to his friend and her brother, Benedict, and she resolves to foil him. Theresa Romain’s witty pen is immediately evident in Passion Favors the Bold. Among histrom writers, Romain is gently humorous and deeply compassionate towards her characters and never more so than in her second Royal Rewards romance.
In Passion Favors the Bold, Romain rocks two of Miss Bates’s favorite tropes: opposites-attract and the road-romance. Romain’s novel about missing gold, a determined Bow Street runner, avarice, and self-interest is also about affection, shared laughter, redeeming the past, and finding purpose. At its center is a most sympathetic, likeable couple in Hugo and Georgette. They’re funny, witty, good-hearted, and sheer fun. The fun comes from all the ways they’re opposites: Georgette builds castles in the air while Hugo pours over his future hospital’s architectural plans. And yet, at core, Georgette’s castles and Hugo’s hospital plans are about finding a place in which to be anchored. Like the best of the romance genre, it’s about the journey to realizing that the only anchor to be had, the only grounding is in loving and being loved.
With two such eminently likeable protagonists, Romain’s romance runs a little slow and ends a tad too abruptly, but is sheer delight in Hugo and Georgette’s initial run-ins. What makes them “opposites” isn’t a 12-year age gap, but their temperaments. Georgette is fanciful where Hugo is practical; Georgette is adventure where Hugo is sobriety. Georgette is, as Hugo dubs her, a “romantic” where he is a pragmatist. When they set off together, at cross-purposes, their journey is to Georgette a “noble quest” whereas for Hugo, it’s an “errand.” Georgette is Don Quixote to Hugo’s Sancho Panza. One of Miss Bates’s favourite exchanges comes over a discussion of reading, when Georgette says to Hugo, “You read to learn. I read to experience.” Need we say that Hugo’s reading runs to the efficacy of “vegetable acids” and Georgette’s to novels?
Moments of connection and understanding are, therefore, all the more meaningful and precious when they arrive. Eventually, Hugo and Georgette find a shared purpose in seeking the gold reward. They both have a dream to fulfill, a personal, individual one: Hugo wants to build a hospital and Georgette wants a home, a little cottage with a garden. When their adventure runs aground, thanks to a persistent Bow Street runner, Georgette plots all manner of subterfuge. At this, Hugo quips, ” ‘Oh good. Intrigue. We’ve fallen into a gothic novel.’ ” Other than the charm of Romain’s rom-self-referentiality, it’s apparent that, while they tease and play at opposites, somewhere along the way Hugo and Georgette rubbed off on each other. Hugo recognizes the importance of imagination and Georgette, of idealistic purpose. They also individually, separately, realize they want the other, against everything practical and/or good. Hugo wants his “sweet-scented impertinence” and Georgette’s penchant for independence gives way to her deepest fears and desires, “she had long been in the habit of trying not to want anything,” the desire to be loved, to be chosen for herself.
Miss Bates has one caveat when it comes to the non-category-length romance such as Romain’s: with incredibly nice protagonists, it’s difficult to sustain the reasons why they shouldn’t be together. And Passion Favors the Bold suffers from this. What it doesn’t suffer from is the beauty of its sentiments, MissB’s favourite being Hugo’s definition of love as “putting down a book for one’s companion when one only wants to read.” To a bookworm and spinster, this is truly love’s sacrifice. With her reading companion, Miss Austen, Miss Bates says of Romain’s Passion Favors the Bold, “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Theresa Romain’s Passion Favors the Bold is published by Zebra Books Kensington. It released on Feb. 28th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Kensington Books, via Netgalley.