|When Dominic Shay, earl of Whitby, makes a disparaging comment about a young woman at Almacks, her cousin Timothy takes him to task at his club. Dominic is the foremost arbiter of fashion in the ton; an idle comment from him can ruin someone. Why doesn’t Dominic use his influence for good for a change?
By chance, at that moment another young lady is seen in the street outside where females are not allowed. Timothy challenges Dominic to bring her into fashion. The young lady is identified as Clarissa Fallon.
Clarissa was first introduced as the sister of the hero in Vision in Blue. Clarissa spent most of her childhood in a foundling home until she was sold into service. Now restored to her position as a young lady of good family and living with her brother Matthew Fallon and his wife Gemma, Clarissa is having a difficult time adjusting.
She did not receive the instruction other young ladies obtain as a normal part of their education – intricacies of title and precedence, etiquette, deportment, dancing. She makes repeated errors in speech, manners, and behavior. She’s prone to panic attacks. She despairs that she will ever commit to memory the patterns taught by her dancing master. Being a maidservant was much easier than this. Matthew’s and Gemma’s reassurances that in time she’ll feel more at ease fail to ease her anxiety.
At the first ball she attends, Clarissa is approached by the matchless earl of Whitby. When he asks her to dance, she ends up falling to the floor at his feet. Her remark, “Oh, bloody hell,” is overheard by all.
To her surprise, the earl calls upon her the next day to take her and her sister-in-law for a drive in the park. Clarissa cannot imagine why the earl would be interested in her, but when she becomes a suspect in the murder of Mrs. Craigmore, the wicked woman who once ran the foundling home, he champions her. Together they will uncover a criminal plot.
Gilding the Lily is a story with a split personality. The first part of the book is devoted to Clarissa’s repeated faux pas. She’s more than merely unaccustomed to her new life – she’s downright clumsy. In scene after scene, Clarissa demonstrates what a complete misfit she is. The author probably intended Clarissa’s misadventures to be slapsticky, laugh-out-loud funny, but physical comedy often does not translate well to the written page. These passages are overdone and become tedious - fewer scenes would have been preferable.
As a reward for readers who hang in there, the second part of the book – where Dominic and Clarissa look into the circumstances surrounding Mrs. Craigmore’s murder – is more interesting. Clarissa begins to display some physical coordination and a modicum of intelligence. Moreover, the mystery subplot is sufficiently complex and entertaining.
Dominic is initially portrayed as an arrogant lord – the kind so frequently found in works by author Mary Balogh – but once he develops an interest in Clarissa and the mystery, he mellows considerably. His supposed romantic interest in Clarissa, however, remains unconvincing. She, of course, is impressed by the much-admired earl, but her admiration comes across as not much more than an adolescent crush. Together they work better as a couple of amateur sleuths than as a romantic pair.
Gilding the Lily has ties to earlier works by Nicole Byrd but stands well on its own. A minor subplot involving Lord Gabriel Sinclair’s search for his and Gemma’s biological father promises to be more prominent in a future book.
Its slow and repetitive beginning keeps Gilding the Lily from earning a recommended rating, but the well-done mystery section makes this a book worth considering.