Friday, December 2, 2022

Gaming Hell Christmas: Volume Two, by Amanda McCabe (author), Kathy L Wheeler (author)

Chisel Imprint, December 2022

It's 1797, and in Georgian England, while women have no more legal rights than they will have in the coming Regency era, they do have somewhat more social freedom. The Girls of Wight, a small circle of friends who attended Miss Greensley's School of Comportment for Young Ladies of Quality, now 29 and all still unmarried, are exercising some of that freedom--still quite limited by modern standards.

One of them is Princess Augusta, a daughter of George III. Another is Alexandra, illegitimate but acknowledged and valued daughter of the Duke of Winsome. There are the twin daughters of an earl, Thomasina and Philomena. Victoria Lanford is an orphan who became the ward of her uncle when her parents died, and was sent to school and Miss Greensley's when she and her cousins, Delphine and Melanie, hated her. She now supports herself writing novels by "A Lady L." 

Then there's Faustina Clara, now a very successful courtesan--not at all respectable, but the other women can, with care, maintain the acquaintance. Lady X, who might or might not be one of those named, but is certainly a friend, is the owner of a "gaming hell," La Sous Rose.

The Gaming Hell Christmas anthology series features overlapping, not consecutive, stories about each of the friends achieving romantic happy endings, with a party at La Sous Rose and the Duke of Winsome's Christmas ball featuring in each of them.

In this volume, we have Victoria's story, and Philomena's. Victoria has a little problem, a bad habit she picked up during the months she lived with her uncle and cousins--under severe emotional stress, she'll pick up jewelry or other small, valuable items dropped or left unattended by the person who caused the upset. To be clear, what her cousins do to her is serious bullying and emotional abuse. And while she takes the valuables, she also later leaves them where her cousins will find them and think they merely dropped or forgot them. She also, during that time, became friends with Rhys Neville, the heir of the neighboring lord,

When they meet again, years later, Victoria is earning enough from her secret career as a novelist to maintain a respectable if modest position in society, and attend society musical evenings. Along with some of her friends, she's at a typically mediocre concert, where she finds her cousins are also attending. Rhys Neville also appears--and she soon learns that Delphine is hoping to marry Rhys. Rhys's father would like that to happen, because it would result in combining the two neighboring estates. Because of the pressure from his father, Rhys is carrying the Neville engagement ring with him--and he drops it when he's helping Victoria comfort one of her friends. He doesn't notice, and when he has walked away, Victoria picks it up.

Of course, the "lost" ring, Victoria's guilt over it, Rhys's reluctance to marry one of her cousins, especially after meeting Victoria again, become the core of the a story that involves both social conflict and a very risky effort to get the ring back where it belongs.

Meanwhile, because the two stories are taking place in the same timeframe of approaching Christmas, Philomena is having her own troubles. She's been seeing a "visionary," a fortune teller, who is a complete fraud. She's convinced she's firmly on the shelf, never going to marry at the age of nearly thirty. Philomena openly visits Hatchards bookstore, and the lending library, and secretly visits her "visionary," and goes to social events with her twin and their friends.

Viscount Kerse has been watching Philomena for a while, at social events; she's unaware that he's one of the few who can reliably distinguish her from her identical twin, Thomasina. He's very attracted to her, but, unfortunately, he has a problem at home that he thinks would ruin the family reputation if it became known, so obviously he can't marry... But he's not willing to let Philomena run any risks when he realizes she's going regularly to a not very suitable neighborhood in Soho. They both wind up taking risks that could ruin their reputations, and this is all going on, and somewhat intertwined, with Victoria and Rhys's adventures.

These are light, fun, interesting stories, built around Christmas, friendship, and happy endings. 


I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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