What I Liked: The hero, Derek Craven, carries this entire book. There is no doubt in my mind that the reason this was voted #6 on AAR's 100 Top Romances Poll is because of him. Literally born in a gutter, raised on the streets, with no family of his own, this is a self-made man thumbing his nose at "polite" (and I use that term loosely) English society. In a sub genre populated by Dukes and Earls - it's downright refreshing to read about a "common man" and it was damn near revolutionary back in 1994 - which is when this book was first published.
In the shelter of her country cottage, Sara Fielding puts pen to paper to create dreams. But curiosity has enticed the prim, well-bred gentlewoman out of her safe haven -- and into Derek Craven's dangerous world.
A handsome, tough and tenacious Cockney, he rose from poverty to become lord of London's most exclusive gambling house -- a struggle that has left Derek Craven fabulously wealthy, but hardened and suspicious. And now duty demands he allow Sara Fielding into his world -- with her impeccable manners and her infuriating innocence. But here, in a perilous shadow-realm of ever-shifting fortunes, even a proper "mouse" can be transformed into a breathtaking enchantress -- and a world-weary gambler can be shaken to his cynical core by the power of passion...and the promise of love.
Also, I like Kleypas' writing. There's a nice flow to it, it's easy to read, and the pages whiz by. I'm glad I have several (several) more of her books in my TBR.
What I Didn't Like: Well, take away Derek Craven and there just ain't a whole lot to hang my hat on. Our heroine, Sara, runs hot and cold for me. One minute she does something stupid (save me from heroines who attend debauched costume balls while in disguise), the next she's downright kick-ass (shooting a ruffian harming Derek, breaking things off with her mama's boy fiance). In the end, I tend to fall on the side of "liking her" but she straddles the line for the majority of the book.
I also felt that Derek and Sara didn't spend nearly enough quality time together before deciding they were in love. In fact, Derek comes off as obsessed more often than not. There is a separation during the middle chapters, but that didn't bother me. It was the early scenes where Sara is spending all her time at Derek's club not being with Derek, but rather the multitude of servants.
Last but not least, Lord deliver me from the Evil, Psychotic Other Woman Villainess. Now, this isn't entirely Kleypas' fault. I probably would have tolerated this conflict well enough if I had read this book back in 1994, but now it just tends to get my feminist panties in a bunch. That and it's a plot device that's been trotted out ad nauseam in historical romances since then. Also, the actions of this villainess that cause Derek and Sara to finally hook up? Well, I found it forced. Really forced. But I'm a big enough person to admit that this falls under Personal Preference, so while it annoys the stuffing out of me, it will work for a lot of other readers.
So final verdict? As much as I loved Derek Craven, there just wasn't much else about this story that worked all that well for me. Final Grade = C+. Right about now someone might want to break the smelling salts out for Kristie. Me? I'm off to flog myself in the corner. I met Kleypas at RWA and a nicer woman you will never meet. Painfully nice. So nice that God will probably smite me for posting this review. Of course if He does show up to finish me off maybe I'll get time off for good behavior if I mention I liked Suddenly You better?