The more I reread this universe in chronological, the more respect I have for Grace Burrowes and her ability to create characters that may or may not play a larger role in their own books later. We leave the Lonely Lord series behind for a while for a series that Grace Burrowes entitled the Jaded Gentlemen.
In Thomas, we pick up the story of David’s man of business, Thomas Jennings, who apparently became Baron Sutcliffe when David wasn’t looking. Thomas leaves David’s service and takes up the mantle of baron at some point after David and Letty marry, then purchases the estate that Andrew, Lord Greymoor, was thinking of selling to Douglas, Lord Amery.
We’ve also already met Loris Tanner, the heroine, in Douglas, as the daughter of Linden’s steward who ran off without a word two years previous, worried of being accused of forcing himself on a woman. In his absence, Loris has been trying to unofficially carry on her father’s duties, preserving her father’s place in hopes he might return. In Douglas, he advised Andrew of Loris’s situation, and she became the steward in truth.
Thomas purchases the estate, comes to Linden and meets Loris. They fall in love even as she worries over her father’s continued absence, her lack of security in the world, and her problems exerting her authority over the stables. Thomas relies on Loris to get the estate back into order and offers to show her how to get along better as a lady so that she might have a few more options if her father never returns and a future owner turns her away.
There’s also someone making trouble on the Linden estate, so there’s a small mystery that doesn’t drive the plot, merely gives our leads something to do while Thomas tries to convince Loris to take a chance on him. The supporting cast is also a good one and, like Douglas, does a lot to set Grace Burrowes up for at least six or seven more books.
David, Lord Fairly, returns for his fifth straight appearance as the hero’s confidante and friend. I remember reading Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie & McBride series and being supremely annoyed every time a Mackenzie brother showed because they never felt like they narratively served the plot. They were there because the author loved them, not because the characters did.
That’s a big difference in Burrowes’ regency universe where what holds these characters together is not merely their family connections but their genuine affection. David grew up without a large family, so it makes sense when he frets about his sisters, Felicity and Astrid, and their husbands, Gareth and Andrew, or Douglas and Thomas. When Letty suggests David visit Thomas to see how he’s going on at Linden, it feels earned and right.
We also meet the Haddonfield brothers, Nick and Beckman, who will also head their own books in the Lonely Lords series. Nick refers later to his sisters, most of whom will be heroines in subsequent series. Nick gets more to do here than Beckman, but I find myself liking both brothers and looking forward to reading their books soon. We’re also introduced to Matthew Belmont whose brother shows up in The Virtuoso.
Sometimes you can see that Burrowes is playing around with the extra characters in her books, just to see if something might tug enough to inspire her to write their story. The extraneous scenes might annoy me (and if I recall correctly, they eventually do) but here, early on, the characters feel useful and interesting. I want to read more about Matthew, Nick, and Beckman, based on their presence here.
This is honestly the best book in the universe thus far, with the best characterization and plot development as well as my favorite romance.
I wasn’t sure at the beginning if I was going to like this book at all actually because Thomas offering to show Loris how to be a lady seemed a bit forced. The more however, I read, the more I became interested in why he was so adamant in giving Loris choices. But we get some glimpses into a troubled childhood and a rough relationship with his sister, Theresa. I wish we’d gotten more but I suspect Burrowes realized she was going to write Theresa’s story next (she’s the heroine in Matthew) and I can respect that since Thomas’s story was really Theresa’s, it was more important that it happen in her book.
One of the things that can often drive me crazy about series is that the some of the best part of the character’s story happens in the book previous. Cathy Maxwell wrote a trilogy about a cursed set of siblings in which the middle brother was a drunk (and possibly drug addict). He sobered up in the first book and it was only alluded to in the second. He doesn’t even tell his heroine about his past. It made that hero seem a lot more flat and uninteresting.
I don’t mind getting pieces of a character throughout several books — we’ve had five books with David and I have the same criticism — his story unfolded more in Gareth and Andrew, so we as readers already knew his tragic backstory. But Burrowes at least took the space to for David to share his story with Letty.
Here, Thomas never really opens up to Loris beyond some vague suggestion that he and his sister quarreled because Theresa embraced a life of vice, throwing away her virtue. He’s refused to talk to her in years, which feels cold and unfeeling. It almost renders Thomas unlikeable — but then, at the end of the story, Thomas admits to himself that he’s realized he’s holding Theresa responsible for her choices as if she’d been an adult at the time, and not only slightly older than him. He invites her to visit. I don’t mind if a character does things that are not likeable, as long as the author motivates it.
So while I’d wish for more detail about Thomas’s childhood, I can live with it ending up in the next book because it means that Theresa’s relationship with her brother still needs repairing. I’m glad she left it out of this book.
Overall The more I reread this universe in chronological, the more respect I have for Grace Burrowes and her ability to create characters that may or may not play a larger role in their own books ...