A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting was a lot of fun! We follow Kitty, the eldest of a family of recently orphaned and soon-to-be-destitute daughters, who sets out to secure their future and a rich husband at her first ever London Season. Her mission is both hampered and helped by Lord Radcliffe, who’s determined to keep Kitty and her scheming ways far away from his impressionable younger brother, even if that means helping her land some other unsuspecting wealthy dupe. Which, of course, entails spending lots of time together. What could possibly happen?!
I love a good regency romance and Sophie Irwin delivers. The enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance plot isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it doesn’t need to be. Irwin sets up the initial antagonism between the leads so well it’s hard to see how they’ll come back from it, which is the mark of a good enemies to friends/lovers plot, in my opinion. Kitty and Radcliffe are well-matched, both in wit and personality and in situation. They’re both the heads of their respective families struggling with the responsibility and they find common ground and mutual respect in that, despite their initial dislike and disapproval of each other’s high-handedness (Radcliffe) and manipulativeness (Kitty). It gives their friendship and the romance overall a solid grounding and it’s nice to see a bit of wholesome family drama alongside the romance plot.
I also love to see a female fortune-hunter and I thought it was refreshing to see money and class issues explicitly take centre stage in a Regency Romance. Of course, you could argue that every RR is ultimately about money (through marriage) and there are some RR writers, like Carla Kelly, who focus on less glamorous sides to the era, but I liked that Irwin sets out to deromanticize the typical find-a-husband narrative through constant reminders of Kitty’s dire financial need. Which is ironic as this is still a romance which doesn’t exactly resist the convention, in the end. Still, I loved Kitty; she’s calculating, cunning, ultra-competent and relentless in the pursuit of her goals, which is great to see, especially in a female character. (Give us more morally grey, can-do, complex women!) I also like that she’s very upfront and honest about the kind of loveless marriage she anticipates; even if you disapprove, you’ve got to feel sorry for her and admire her willingness to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her sisters. And it is unfair to judge her, considering the lack of options for financial independence and security open to women at the time, as Kitty keeps reminding Radcliffe. I can still see how some readers might find her unsympathetic, but I didn’t have that problem. It also helps that Irwin provides a foil for Kitty in the form of a much more amoral and selfish male fortune hunter. And Kitty gets a bit of redemption arc character development for any readers still on the fence about her. (Is it unfair that Kitty needs that extra bit of character work to make her more appealing to mainstream audiences? Probably.)
I loved the developing friendship between Kitty and Radcliffe, their kind of partners-in-crime vibe, trolling the ton. For me, that sense of a partnership between equals is crucial to a good, satisfying romance. It reminded me a bit of the leads in Frederica, by Georgette Heyer (my all-time favourite RR). Quite a few elements of the plot seem to be Heyer-inspired, particularly Kitty’s Grand Sophy moment with a pistol (without the antisemitism). And, of course, there are all the balls, elopements and cutting remarks that are ESSENTIAL to any regency romance. On top of that, the banter throughout is witty and I really enjoyed Irwin’s writing, in general; she manages to maintain a Heyer-esque, period-appropriate tone most of the time, which I appreciate in a RR, other than a few outbursts that clashed with my personal expectations of the period/genre (which probably aren’t historically accurate anyway). I was less convinced that Kitty and Radcliffe were madly in love by the end, but, as I said, they’re well-matched, so I’m not going to quibble.
I’d definitely recommend A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting to RR fans looking for their next fix. Some of the dialogue etc. feels a little more contemporary than the works of older RR writers, but it also doesn’t have characters falling into bed by chapter three, unlike some Regency Romances I could mention. So if you’re looking for a nice middle ground between old-school RR and full-on bodice-ripping, look no further.
(I received a free ecopy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, so thank you NetGalley and HarperCollins!)