The Lady By His Side was surprisingly much better than I thought it would be — or at least a whole lot less annoying than Laurens’ more recent work. It was definitely a significant improvement over the preceeding Adventurers Quartet series, which in my opinion was appalling.
By this point, I pretty much read Stephanie Laurens only to see what situations/plots she puts her characters in. It’s interesting to see the political happenings of the periods she writes about, and how she incorporates them into her story. This is one area she excels in, and her research in these matters is wonderfully detailed.
In this book, Laurens writes about the Young Irelanders political movement, and a plot involving copious amounts of gunpowder that the protagonists need to locate before it is used for nefarious purposes. It will be interesting to learn the motives and the identity of the as-yet nameless and mysterious old villain.
That being said, everything else about this book is mostly predictable, from the protagonists’ behaviour to the mostly lacklustre secondary characters to the tedious descriptions of the love scenes (which I always skip, because seriously, who has the patience to read 20 pages of florid prose about bedroom gymnastics at a stretch? At least 3-4 times per book??). This book didn’t differ from her other works in that aspect.
*Spoiler: There is at least one unnecessary death, unnecessary because the character is nothing but a clingy-ex-who-expects-things-to-rekindle-with-the-male-protagonist-now-that-they-are-reunited-even-though-he-keeps-pushing-her-away trope, and her death did exactly nothing to advance the plot.
Another thing that bothers me is how Laurens frames the national independence movements of the time as villains committing dastardly deeds against the colonial British Empire, when the British did far worse to the peoples it imposed its rule over for several centuries. But since she writes from the point of view of the British regency (and the following period), I guess she’s picked her side. Still, it would have been nice to see the other side in this book not tarred with the same brush as true evil villains such as those from the Adventurers Quartet or the Black Cobra series.
Also, the cover is awful.
As regards to the two protagonists, I must say I called Antonia and Sebastian becoming a couple when they grew up back when Laurens wrote the early Cynster novels — why wouldn’t you pair up the children of two alpha frenemies who enjoyed annoying each other? I did expect Devil Cynster to put in an appearance, so it was disappointing that he didn’t, though we did get to see Gyles Rawlings poke fun at Sebastian’s ‘predicament’. To see the Duke of St. Ives ribbing the Earl of Chillingworth about their kids getting together would have added the much-needed entertainment factor the book sadly lacks.
About the only thing I liked about the book was that Sebastian Cynster came across as a lot more real as a character than the usual crop of Laurens’ alpha male protagonists. He showed emotions other than neanderthal pig-headedness, possessiveness and overprotectiveness, and dominance, and was more your regular clueless male, which is, for Laurens’ novels, refreshing. The same goes for Drake Varisey, son of yet another previous Laurens protagonist, Royce Varisey, Duke of Wolverstone. Antonia, too, was a whole lot less annoying than the typical Laurens heroine.
Will I read the rest of the series? Yes, because Laurens is my go-to for cliched romance with a bit of plot. And because I’m still hoping the Duke of St. Ives, the Earl of Chillingworth, and the Duke of Wolverstone will show up to trade barbs over their offspring.
*Featured (stock) image courtesy Pexels.com.
*Also published on Goodreads.