Review: The Harlot Countess by Joanna Shupe

Saturday, May 30, 2015
Title: The Harlot Countess
Author: Joanna Shupe
Genre: romance, historical
Series: Wicked Deceptions #2
Pages: 352
Published: April 28, 2015
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

Maggie, Lady Hawkins, had a debut she’d rather forget—along with her first marriage. Today, the political cartoonist is a new woman. A thoroughly modern woman. So much so that her clamoring public believes she’s a man…

FACT: Drawing under a male pseudonym, Maggie is known as Lemarc. Her (his!) favorite object of ridicule: Simon Barrett, Earl of Winchester. He’s a rising star in Parliament—and a former confidant and love interest of Maggie’s who believed a rumor that vexes her to this day.

FICTION: Maggie is the Half-Irish Harlot who seduced her best friend’s husband on the eve of their wedding. She is to be feared and loathed, as she will lift her skirts for anything in breeches.

Still crushed by Simon’s betrayal, Maggie has no intention of letting theton crush her as well. In fact, Lemarc’s cartoons have made Simon a laughingstock…but now it appears that Maggie may have been wrong about what happened years ago, and that Simon has been secretly yearning for her since…forever. Could it be that the heart is mightier than the pen and the sword after all?

Shupe's novels are compared to a lot of Regency fiction. I'm talking public sex, voyeurism, masturbation, doggy-style steam. Where a lot of authors seem to do three-four sex scenes in a book, Shupe's got that in the first quarter. I like the way she writes her scenes, too; a good balance that isn't too clinical or ridiculously purple. She avoids words that set my teeth on edge. (YMMV. I just can't take cleft or tummy in another romance. Please god.)

Maggie was your typical eighteen year old debutante, a bit impetuous from her half-Irish heritage, but proper and eager to make a match. Then she rebuffed her best friend's fiance and he set about a smear campaign that she's never lived down. Hastily married off to an old man who preferred his mistress right up until the day he died, Maggie found ruination gave her freedom to explore art and help less fortunate women. Now back in London, she throws lavish, bacchanalian parties to disguise her greatest secret: she is the political cartoonist Lemarc.

Lemarc's favorite target is Lord Winejester, er Winchester, Maggie's former suitor who turned his back on her after Cranford's lies. Those who read The Courtesan Duchess will remember Lord Winchester as Simon, Julia's greatest friend and ally. And that's where I start to lose the book.

Simon in book one is not the same character in book two. No time has passed. Nothing has happened. Just in one book he's a supportive, loving friend with a mischievous side and in the next, he's a strictly regimented, pompous ass. This jewel of Parliament would never have taken Julia to Venice. This man schedules his visits to his mistress! It's like a totally different person. He and Julia are friendly, but there's no warmth. She's much more Maggie's friend, despite just meeting her 50 pages into the book.

The big mis stretched on a bit long, especially with addition of the last minute mystery. They could have made up sooner and given the blackmail more time, which might have given the reveal more shock or tension. As it was, the climax happened too fast. There was a secondary story set up involving a brothel, Pearl's return, and the link between Maggie, Julia, and the third book's heroine, but it's left entirely open for the last book. I didn't really appreciate that, since I did find the book a bit too long.

Despite those reservations, I liked Maggie and Simon. I'm at the point in my reading life where I just DNF romances where the H/h don't have chemistry, and these do. The frigging scene really cemented that for me. I liked the book, the revenge plot, the parties, and that again, Shupe moved the story out of London and onto the continent. It's not perfect, but a series to check out.

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