Eloisa James is one of my favorite historical romance authors, and Three Weeks With Lady X is a sterling example of just why. It has all of the elements that James does so well: a hero and heroine with a fabulous capacity for witty banter, a family dynamic (the hero here is the child of one of James' other couples), obstacles between them that are just likely enough to allow suspension of disbelief but just small enough to be overcome, a secondary love story that, while not terribly interesting, adds a little bit of a different dynamic to make you want the main couple to get together even more, and a great country-house setting.
In this particular piece of work, Thorn Dautry, born Tobias and later called Juby, is trying to marry into respectability. The bastard son of the Duke of Villiers, Thorn is beloved by his father and stepmother, has just enough polish to be noticed by well-born women (but not enough to be taken as a true gentleman) and is absolutely filthy rich to boot. Thorn has set his eye on Laeticia, whose family has a title but is dirt poor. Lala doesn't particularly want to marry Thorn, but is willing to do so for her family's well-being, provided that her mother will give her blessing. Thorn figures that he needs to buy a country house to make himself out as a good choice to Lala's mother (who is a true bitch, of course) and buys Starberry Court. He then hires Lady Xenobia, who goes by her middle name India, to make the estate into something presentable. India is well-born and rich, but through her own doing; her parents squandered the family fortune and spent their time pretty much worshipping nature, leaving India very much on her own until they were killed in a carriage accident when she was fifteen. Ever since, India's guardian Adelaide has shuttled her from house to house, letting India work her magic and right their woes while Adelaide visits with her friends. Now, at twenty-six, India plans to make Starberry Court her last project before retiring and finding a husband of her own.
Over the course of the book, India and Thorn of course engage in witty banter, the exchange of witty notes, and have other witty encounters of various varieties, and of course they become attracted to each other, though Thorn is always very clear that he intends to marry Lala. This is partly because he really does intend to marry Lala, who he feels is the ideal wife because she will bear his children, love them terribly, and never get in his way, and partly because he feels like he's not good enough for India, or that India thinks he isn't good enough for her because of his low-born origins. This second part is, of course, not true, but becomes the main source of conflict between Thorn and India, even more than the fact that Thorn intends to marry another woman.
Fleshing out the cast of characters is Vander, Thorn's best friend who also takes a liking to India; Adelaide, India's aunt who means well but seems rather absent-minded, as she is always leaving her unmarried ward alone in Thorn's company; the Duke of Villiers and his wife, Eleanor; Lala's bitch of a mother; and even a brief appearance by Thorn's former mudlark friends. And then, of course, there is Rose--the daughter of one of the former mudlarks who is entrusted to Thorn after her father dies. Rose acts more like sixty than six, and bears a resemblance to Thorn even though she isn't related to him, which causes some problems relating to Thorn's respectability.
What more is there really to say? It's a charming historical romance, which is what James does best. Despite a few flubs in the past, I think her more recent series have really shone and I've thoroughly enjoyed them. She does play around with history at some points (this one deals with Thorn running a rubber factory several decades before such a thing would have been realistic, which seems silly; she could have easily picked another industry for him) but honestly, do we really read historical romances for the history? No. No we do not. We read them because they have a charm that is hard to capture in modern-day romances, and that is what James excels at.
4 stars out of 5.