Morgan & Whitney Dish: No Proper Lady By Isabel Cooper
Sent from the future to save her time, Joan from Isabel Cooper's debut novel No Proper Lady is a very unusual heroine. Closer to what readers would expect from an urban fantasy character, Joan is used to fighting off monsters and dodging deranged demons. However, once in Victorian England she has to give up her advanced weapons and warrior techniques and instead learn the mores of her new historical setting in order to complete her mission. Good thing she finds gentleman Simon Grenville to assist in her transformation into a lady.
Morgan: I can confidently say that readers who open this book looking for a classic historical romance are going to be totally shocked — in a really great way.
Whitney: Definitely. Just take the first scene where Joan is preparing to be transported back in time to the Victorian era. I think this really sets the tone for this unusual story.
Morgan: By integrating time travel into the plot, the author is able to not only grab fans of historical romance, but also those that like paranormal and even futuristic tales. Also, there is quite a bit of action in this story. And how can there not be? The story follows Joan’s mission to kill the evil sorcerer who unleashes demons that take over our world.
Whitney: Now just hearing this introduction, straight historical romance fans might start wondering if this is the book for them, but it totally is!
Morgan: Amidst the action there’s a lot of the trappings of a historical romance, complete with beautiful dresses, strict etiquette and the intrigues of the ton.
Whitney: But it all starts with one little trip back in time, a dangerous quest to save the future ...
Morgan: Joan’s plan works and she materializes in the past, literally appearing in front of Victorian gentleman Simon Grenville on his rural estate in the English countryside.
Whitney: Simon is completely surprised, but his shock doubles when several dog-sized creatures attempt to attack him and the strange woman kills them with a laser gun that literally ejects from the inside of her arm.
Morgan: Lucky for Simon, he has some experience with the dark arts and other dimensions, so, all things considered, he actually takes the news of Joan’s time traveling pretty well.
Whitney: Yeah, it’s not every day a woman appears to tell you that she is from the future and if she doesn’t kill an evil sorcerer in your time then the world will be taken over by monsters. Not to mention that said evil sorcerer, Alex Reynell, is an old friend of Simon’s.
Morgan: Well as much of a friend as anyone can be after they try to possess your sister’s body. And not like possess as in seduce, but as in actually stuff a demon into the girl’s body so it can exist on this plane.
Whitney: Does that make Reynell Simon’s frenemy?
Morgan: I think this might go beyond high school rivalries. Cooper paints a chilling picture of the future that the Victorian-era Reynell unleashes with his dark magic. In Joan’s time there are demonic overlords that rule over cities where humans are kept like cattle. At one point in the story, Joan mentions that there are only a few hundred people left living free (and by free I mean living in caves, fighting tooth and nail to keep humanity going).
Whitney: So now that she’s been blasted to the past, Joan is in the position to change that future — but even if she succeeds, she knows she can never return to her own time and her own people. She’s definitely makes a huge sacrifice for the good of the rest of the world. And even though I’m not a big fan of the name Joan (sorry, all you Joan’s out there) I thought it was fitting.
Morgan: It conjures up Joan of Arc. Young, fearless, she’s a leader who is completely self-sacrificing.
Whitney: Joan not only has trouble with leaving her family and people behind, but when she gets to the past, everything is so foreign to her. She has to be alert at all times in order to keep up the charade that she belongs in the era.
Morgan: Simon and his sister Eleanor are invaluable to Joan in this aspect. They spend months helping her get ready for her mission. Not fighting-wise (since Joan’s combat training was honed in fire), but the Grenville siblings make sure Joan can move through Society so she has a chance to get close to Reynell and carry out her mission.
Whitney: Joan is such an amazing warrior and so dedicated to the cause that seeing her interact with the Grenvilles, especially seeing the romance blossom between Joan and Simon, really shows her vulnerability which makes her courage stand out that much more starkly.
Morgan: You know I really thought that their relationship was going to be very Pygmalion-esque, but instead while Simon is teaching Joan to be a proper Victorian lady, making over on her (clothing, manners, etc.) he is actually the one transformed. His repressed emotions come to the surface and he becomes so much less stuffy and set in his ways.
Whitney: At the start of this adventure Simon is more than a little bit … narrow minded. Like when he tells Joan that she can’t assassinate Reynell because they have justice in this time. I mean, come on, Reynell is an evil sorcerer who causes the end of the world and Simon is like “It just doesn’t work that way.” Um, yeah, it kind of does.
Morgan: But Simon’s only acting the way that he was brought up. Which Joan completely cannot understand.
Whitney: There are actually a lot of things that Joan just doesn’t understand about the past. I mean, she comprehends them, but she definitely doesn’t understand it all.
Morgan: Well, Joan comes from a time when survival is key and when she goes into the past, her whole worldview must shift. Because in the Victorian age the emphasis isn’t on survival, the big concern is with appearances and Joan just finds this ridiculous. I loved this outburst she has after she is taught how to engage in polite conversation at tea time:
“I’m a dead shot with any weapon I can name. I can survive for ten days in the wilderness. I’ve killed things that would make you run away screaming. I’ve led men on missions where we knew we all could die, and I’ve brought most of them back whole … [E]verything I just talk about had a point. That? That’s about showing that you’re fragile. There is no point, and it’s stupid. Just so you know.”
Whitney: I really liked how Joan doesn’t just become the perfect Victorian lady right after she gets to the new time. There’s a lot of work that goes into the process of even being a passably presentable lady.
Morgan: I loved back-and-forths in these passages as Joan is learning the ropes. One of my particular favorites was between Simon and Joan at their first ball:
Simon: “Quite a crush, isn’t it? Don’t worry. We don’t trample more than six or seven people an evening.”
Joan: “That’s reassuring. I’ll only have to be the eighth slowest person here.”
Simon: “You’ll manage that easily enough.”
Whitney: Agreed, these little moments work so well to show how Joan is adapting to this incredibly different world.
Morgan: But as all of these scenes are going on (and props to Cooper for writing them so smoothly) Joan stays true to herself. Everything she does still revolves around her mission and battle training. Like when her maid is able to button her dress so quickly that Joan wants to get her into sniper classes ASAP. Or how as Joan learning how to dance, she’s also deciding what poison could be put on her glove to kill her future dance partner.
Whitney: And that’s all before she’s actually met Reynell, the man she’s supposed to assassinate.
Morgan: The plot really showcases the author's skills. There are many, many authors that write an awesome futuristic tale, like Ann Aguirre and Marcela Burnard, and there are lots of authors that write beautiful historicals, like Claudia Dain and Mary Balogh. There are even others that can switch back and forth (I’m thinking particularly of Amanda Quick aka Jayne Castle). But for this story Isabel Cooper must write both a futuristic as well as a historical. She’s fuses the two genres together and came up with some ubergenre guaranteed to please every reader.
Whitney: But to find out what happens to Joan, Simon, Eleanor and Reynell, you’re going to have to pick up your own copy of No Proper Lady...
Tell us your reactions to No Proper Lady, or why you are dying to check it out? And then you can read along with us when next week Morgan and Whitney will be Dishing about Lauren Dane's newest erotic e-romance Once and Again!