How strange that within the same week I should read two books with much the same plot device: the introduction into proper British society of a person who has been free from its rules and rigidities. In Christina Dodd’s new book, the outsider is Wynter, Viscount Ruskin, who has spent some fifteen years living with the Bedouins of the Arabian desert. This certainly makes Wynter a potentially interesting hero.
The story opens as Wynter’s mother, Adorna, comes to the newly established Distinguished Academy for Governesses to hire a preceptress for Wynter’s two newly arrived children. When Adorna describes her needs, Miss Hannah Setterington suggests that Lady Charlotte Dalrumple, a noted finishing governess called Miss Priss by her pupils. She seems just the person to acclimate a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl who have enjoyed the freedom of nomadic life to the rigors of English society. She may well serve Adorna’s other purpose: to tame her son and to reacquaint him with good British manners.
Lady Charlotte’s first view of her employer’s son is not encouraging. He wears his blond hair long, has a gold earring and a dashing scar, and has abandoned his shoes. The prim “Lady Miss Charlotte,” as Wynter insists on calling her, is appalled. She is also secretly attracted to the handsome lord.
Wynter had fled England at fifteen after his beloved father’s death. He had dreamt of adventure, but got more than he bargained for, ending up as the slave of a Bedouin chieftain. He had improved his position to adopted son, but had decided to come home. His years away turned a romantical English boy into a man whose attitudes and behavior were far different from those of his peers. He had become much more a Bedouin than a Brit.
Lady Charlotte is the orphaned daughter of an earl who fled her uncle’s home in the wake of a scandal. She has reestablished herself by virtue of her impeccable morals and behavior. Naturally, Wynter is fascinated by this most proper lady, whose red hair belies her outward facade.
The viscount pursues the governess relentlessly and gradually begins to wear down her resistance. As he maneuvers her to forget her rules of behavior and learn the rules of surrender, the sexual tension between the two grows ever hotter. But however she may respond to Wynter’s sensual lure, Charlotte cannot accept the ideas about male-female
relationships that he learned from his “desert father.”
Certainly there is much to enjoy in this book, especially the romance. And that might well be enough for most readers. There are frequent nice, humorous touches, especially as Wynter confronts the prim and proper denizens of Victorian society. Charlotte’s relationship with the children and their reaction to this strange new world is nicely
I agonized over rating Rules of Surrender. Perhaps I was unconsciously comparing this version of the outsider in Victorian London with another that I had just read. I know that this book, while entertaining, simply did not resonate with me to the same extent. I did not find the characters as interesting or as fully realized. Wynter seemed more like a spoiled boy at times than a romance hero. Charlotte’s behavior seemed sometimes based more on the needs of the storyline than on her character.
Still, there is much to like about Rules of Surrender. Certainly the book fully earns its “R” rating and Dodd is a mistress of the steamy love scene. Obviously this is the first of a planned trilogy about the ladies of the Distinguished Academy of Governesses. I shall certainly look for the other two installments.