Robin Loxleigh and his sister, Marianne, are in London to seek their fortunes. In both their cases, that means an advantageous marriage. The siblings have had a rough past and they are determined to use their beauty and charm to land themselves a wealthy spouse and see themselves provided with some security for the first time in their lives. For Marianne, that means wooing a wealthy, but wholly unpleasant, lord who would make her a marchioness. For Robin, it is luring an incredibly engaging, yet plain-looking, young woman who has a fortune due to her upon marriage. Unfortunately, what stands in Robin’s way is Alice’s grumpy uncle, Sir John Hartlebury, who sees through Robin almost immediately and is determined to protect his niece from Robin’s fortune hunting ways.
Robin and Hart start out at odds right away, but just when it seems that Hart has Robin at his mercy, Robin manages to turn the tables. What starts out with the men as adversaries turns into an opportunity for them to get to know one another and even explore their attraction. Robin is even able to open up to Hart about his past and the struggles he and Marianne have experienced. But even as the men start to feel a real connection, their differences in wealth and status, as well as Robin’s complicated past, make it almost impossible to imagine a future between them. But Robin and Hart have grown to love one another, and with some honesty and trust, they may be able to find a way to make it work.
The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting is a delightful romp and very much K.J. Charles. The author has such a wonderful ability to write beautiful stories with engaging characters that really capture the realities of the time period. This story starts out so delightfully as we see Robin and Marianne prepared to take on the town. They lay the groundwork carefully, building a backstory and making connections that soon see them as the life of the season in London. We know from the start that it is all a farce and it is so much fun to see the stuffy and snobbish society members face the siblings’ clever ability to shine. If anyone knew their past and the fact that they were of low birth, they would be immediately shunned. Charles’ books often offer a subtle commentary that really shines a light on cultural, social, and political norms of the time and adds such wonderful depth to the stories. In this case, there is a clear thread that highlights how all that matters to the high born is to continue validating their own importance. Even the most oafish and poorly mannered can be forgiven with a high enough title. Yet being born common, no matter how charming or kind, is the biggest failure one can have. We see it play out throughout the book and it allows us as readers to enjoy Robin and Marianne’s machinations without much guilt, knowing that they are getting one over on people who fawn on them now, but would treat them with nothing but disdain if they knew the truth. It also helps that Robin and Marianne are genuinely good people buried under their need for self preservation. It makes for a delightful story and an incredibly satisfying ending on all fronts, with those deserving ending up happy, and those who are horrid seeing some comeuppance.
I loved Robin and Hart together and found their connection so rewarding. I am trying to avoid spoilers about how the two end up coming to accord after their rocky start, as it comes up in the story as a delightful detour I didn’t see coming and is not conveyed through the blurb. But I will say, their relationship allows both men to be truly seen by another, often in ways they don’t see themselves. This is particularly true of Hart, who is not especially attractive and has a reputation for being somewhat awkward socially. Part is his disposition, part is some events in his past. But he has a hard time believing anyone would love him or find him attractive, and so it is lovely to see him come to life under Robin’s care. For Robin’s part, he has had to do many things to make his way in life and he wants a future where he can have the stability he needs, while also living more authentically. Before Hart, this is something Robin can’t even imagine for himself. So to see these two men find love and acceptance is really lovely. They are also sexy and fun together, and I loved seeing the stuffy and more reserved Hart learn to fall apart in Robin’s arms.
A large part of the story also focuses on the side plot regarding Marianne and her attempts to marry well. While the book is only told through Robin and Hart’s POVs, Marianne is a big presence in Robin’s life and her fortunes are very much tied to his. The siblings are incredibly close and committed to one another, so what befalls Marianne will also impact Robin. Marianne is a great beauty and she has a chance to find a husband wealthy enough to give both she and Robin the security they so desperately need. Unfortunately, that means marrying a horrid man who treats her poorly and resigning herself to a loveless marriage. Once again, Charles really infuses this part of the story with a lot of depth, as we see the struggle that women have in these situations. The women of society are essentially sold into marriages, their value being either their looks or their money. Even as Robin starts to rethink what he wants for himself, Marianne feels faced with little choice but to continue her quest, as she has so few alternatives. Things all work out in the end quite well, and I enjoyed both watching Marianne’s journey, as well as the connection between her and Robin.
I got a giggle about these characters named Robin and Marianne Loxleigh (who claim to be from the village of Nottinghamshire, no less). The story has some obviously plays on the Robin Hood legend. Not that Robin is stealing from the rich to give to the poor necessarily, but the idea of the rich getting what they deserve, about a redistribution of wealth and power to those who need it, and with a charming rogue in the center of it all. I did find myself a little confused, as at first I assumed the setting for this book pre-dated the Robin Hood stories and that the naming was sort of a wink to readers, but not something that would mean anything to the characters. However, at one point Hart realizes the connection to the Robin Hood story, so clearly it is something with which he and others are familiar. So I was confused why such clever people as Robin and Marianne would choose those names that could give them away as fake, as well as why no one else ever noticed. I mean, even without knowing Robin’s first name, the connection is quite apparent. I am probably overthinking what is just a clever thread in the story, but I did wonder.
Overall, I found this story so engaging. I loved Robin and Hart together and enjoyed their bit of an odd couple dynamic. I found the story to really explore a lot of interesting big picture issues about society at the time, while still creating a really wonderful romance. And I loved watching the charming siblings both find happiness. This one is a lot of fun and a great choice for historical lovers.