Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible was very favorably reviewed back when it came out, so I picked up a copy and left it on the shelf to age. On Halloween, I was cranky about trick-or-treaters interrupting me and agitating the dog, so I picked it up as likely to cheer me up.
Well, this was simply adorable: a fun, sweet, solid romance. I finished it and immediately ordered all of Chase’s other available books from Amazon and Fictionwise (one was only available as an e-book).
Daphne Pembroke is a widow living in Cairo and studying Egyptology. However, thanks to 1820s prejudice against women scholars, she passes her linguistic work off as her brother’s. This backfires when her brother buys her a particularly fine papyrus that is rumored to contain the location of an undiscovered royal tomb. Now he’s been kidnapped and the papyrus stolen by a ruthless, slightly deranged antiquities seeker. When Daphne asks the British counsulate for help, it kills two birds with one stone and has her bail Rupert Carsington out of jail to act as her assistant. (He’s been imprisoned for stopping the pasha’s soldiers from beating a beggar—not the first time he’s been in trouble—and the consulate is finding him expensive.)
Rupert resembles Ivan Vorpatril, without all the trauma. He spends the early part of the book being provokingly stupid, at first because he’s bored in jail and then to distract Daphne from her anxiety. He’s not just comic relief, of course, being perceptive and straightforwardly commonsensical. Perceptive about people, that is: he’s not much for self-analysis, and so doesn’t quite know what to make of the fact that he doesn’t just want to get Daphne naked.
For Daphne’s part, she comes to appreciate Rupert’s support and admiration (once he stops being deliberately provoking, that is). She’s spent years suppressing her passions, and then Rupert comes along and is impressed by her intellect; teaches her to use a pistol; trusts her to rescue herself; and, of course, gets her naked. The book is thus a lovely combination of Daphne learning to fill her own skin and the two of them gradually, convincingly getting to know and rely on each other.
Another thing I liked about this book is that it doesn’t have Daphne discover an unknown tomb or make a breakthrough translation of hieroglyphics or anything like that (which is sadly common in historical stories). The book shows us that Daphne is smart, and doesn’t need to rewrite history to hammer the point home. Similarly, it effectively employs period beliefs such as bodily humors and the formal use of names (and quietly critiques others, like the wholesale looting of Egypt’s antiquities). I’m sure a scholar would find things to criticize about the historical details, but the characters don’t feel like modern people playing dress-up, which is refreshing. (The secondary characters are also fun, including the mongoose.)
I recommend this highly and am looking forward to reading more of Chase’s books.
(The book is part of a series, but stands alone well.)