A DARING MASQUERADE.I first became acquainted with Pam Rosenthal when I read her Rita Award winner The Edge of Impropriety in 2009. I enjoyed that book and promptly purchased Almost A Gentleman. Unfortunately, it has been lingering in my TBR ever since.
For three years, London's haute ton has been captivated by the cool elegance of Philip "Phizz" Marston. Tall, refined, an expert gambler with a cold, unerring eye for style, what keeps the ruthless social climbers attuned to this dandy's every move is something more unsettling.a grace and beauty that leaves women and men alike in a state of unthinkable yearning.
WILL BE DELICIOUSLY UNDRESSED...
Lord David Hervey must be losing his mind. How else explain the disturbing desires he feels whenever his eyes meet the penetrating gaze of Mr. Marston? When he overhears a threat on the gentleman's life, he intervenes and alone discovers the glorious truth.beneath the bindings of Mr. Marston's masquerade hides an exquisite body that is every bit a woman's.
AND EVERY HIDDEN DESIRE, REVEALED.
Armed with desire and entrusted with her bold game, Lord David won't give up till the lady gives in, revealing herself to him completely, surrendering her deepest secrets with every persuasive pleasure he can offer.
Although Almost a Gentleman has a bit of that same style that I enjoyed in The Edge of Impropriety, I found it to be a vastly different read. First, the trope(s) used in this story are all familiar and then some. We begin with the familiar female to male masquerade and that oh... not so subtle attraction of a man's man who becomes attracted to another man, but doesn't quite know why. This trope has been done well, and it is loved by many.
The success of this past three years' masquerade lay precisely in the fact that she didn't feel like a woman. She didn't stand or sit or act like a woman because she didn't want to feel like a woman. Not ever again.Rosenthal's gender bending Phizz/Phoebe is interesting in that she doesn't masquerade for a moment or for a short period of time, but instead assumes the life and follows the lifestyle of a gentleman for a period of three years. Successfully. Phizz gambles, drinks, socializes and through an agency that caters to males with 'certain tastes,' engages the services of a boy to service him/her sexually. Phizz is known as a dandy with much influence, particularly at White's where with a comment he can have gentlemen accepted or denied membership.
[...]Three years of Marston had accustomed her to doing things for herself. Three years of educating herself about her own tastes and passionate desires had made her aggressive -- a taker of pleasure rather than its humble recipient.As you can well imagine, he makes many friends and foes. The one thing you can say about Phizz is that even though he's ruthless, he seems to be both admired and desired (passionately in some cases) by both males and females. Particularly by males. Phizz doesn't want to be a woman, he prefers the life of a man, the sophisticated lifestyle, the freedom, and the power. Phizz resents being a powerless female and for most of the story he fights to stay afloat as the dominant personality. But of course David comes along and changes everything.
David is a country gentleman, a widower nearing 40 and looking for a new wife. He meets Phizz Marston and is both confused and appalled when he's passionately attracted to the young man. He unmasks Phizz as Phoebe pretty quickly into the story, but I found it interesting that before that David went as far as trying to play the hero for Phizz and even throughout the whole story, although he denied it, he was really turned on by Phoebe when she was Mr. Marston.
Stop it, David, he commanded himself. Stop this idiocy at once. For he would certainly lose his oldest friend if John Wolfe caught the merest whiff of suspicion that David hadn't been in any way drawn to the young lady. He winced, imagining how shocked Wolfe would be to learn that what had roused decent, solid Lord Linseley's attention so profoundly had been the elegant posture and extraordinary eyes of a young man in black.And his ass. Let's not forget the young man's ass!
Although understandable, his denials didn't carry much weight with me particularly when their sexual exploits take place. He loves the woman and insists that the woman is what he wants and needs, but Rosenthal introduces certain ambiguous sexual play as well as reactions in this story that leaves the reader thinking that David enjoys that double/gender bending personality that Phoebe/Phizz projects. David protests a bit too much, no?
The above are the interesting aspects of this story. Unfortunately, Rosenthal doesn't follow through and leaves much of it unexplored. We rarely see Phizz in action within society, so there's little depth to his character from that perspective. And although Rosenthal's portrayal of how the homosexual male was viewed during those times is more in the historical context than PC, that portrayal is not necessarily well balanced.
Once Phoebe makes a full time appearance and her real reasons behind becoming Phizz come to light, the story goes into the realm of the ordinary. Her final choices contradict her preferences, the blackmail plot becomes a non-issue, and the 'miracle of conception'? Well... what can I say about that one? I found it a shame that although I enjoyed Ms. Rosenthal's writing style (yes, it is different), and there's great potential and some intriguing moments throughout Almost A Gentleman, as a whole the story ends with a whimper.
Publisher/Release Date: Kensington/December 1, 2007
Visit Pam Rosenthal here.