It involves a duke disguised as a chocolate merchant meeting and falling in love with a penniless lady whom he mistakenly believes is wealthy. At the request of his best friend, Benedict Nesbitt, Duke of Knaresborough, agrees to disguise himself as a chocolate merchant and travel to Kent to inspect the bride that the friend's father has picked out. Libby, the intended bride, and her mentally damaged young brother rescue him and send for Anthony Cook, the local doctor. Nez falls in love with her and decides to cut out his friend and marry her himself. I can't discuss this any more without spoilers, so if you like Carla Kelly and you haven't read this book, don't read any farther in this review. A glittering life of luxury with a man who loves her but cannot give her his name or a life of quiet dedication married to a doctor whose patients will always come first (and whose father, by the way, hates Libby and her little brother)?
I read this straight through in about five hours and finally turned my light out at about 3.30am with all the good swirly feelings rattling around my heart. So much of her appeal is in that completely undefinable ability to write a story that storms its way right into your soul and yet does so with such subtlety you don't even realise it until it's 2am and you simply must keep reading because you're so invested in the characters you have to know what's going to happen (even though this is romance and we know there will be a happy ending). The reader lives and feels the journey of the heroine, Libby, who is completely torn between the two heroes until the very last moment when she finally sees everyone and everything how they really are.
LIBBY'S LONDON MERCHANT concerned three people and how each of their appearances affected the other. Nez's journey had him involved in a very real accident in front of the home of Libby Ames, a relative of Eustace's intended. He had silently loved Libby for a long time. Glasses that slid to the end of his nose and fell off his face. LIBBY'S LONDON MERCHANT had its fair share of plot twists. As the story continued, Libby fell in love. As the reader, I enjoyed when Libby had her 'Ah, ha!' moments.
At first glance, it seemed to have many things I dont particularly like romance, the first of which is a love triangle, but it the end Kelly convinced me again. The friend (a duke in disguise pretending to be a merchant) and Libby proceed to fall in love but when he plans to offer Libbys cousin tells him she has no dowry and is the daughter of an unequal marriage that lead to her father being disinherited. In the end, I closed the book with a deeply satisfied sigh but I realize that readers who prefer standard regency plots might not be as happy with this one.
Libby's London Merchant has been on my radar ever since I started reading historical romance in undergrad and I was excited to get a copy through Paperback Swap. I do not want to spoil anything for future readers so am trying to sing the praises of Ms. Kelly's work without offering specific evidence. I really liked the three main characters that Carla Kelly focused on in this book: Libby, Nez, and Anthony. Carla Kelly has a very distinct writing style and it was a pleasant change from the other historical romances I have been reading lately.
Carla Kelly's stories are not what I would call witty or sparkling -- in fact, I often find the humor in them rather forced, as happened a time or two with this one -- but she still manages to come as close to Georgette Heyer as anyone I have read, in the sense that her characters become very real to me and so far (I haven't read a lot of her books) she is not predictable the way, say, Jayne Ann Krentz is.
Carla Kelly's books are generally quite limited in focus, concentrating on the small details of life as a means of drawing out character.
Although Carla Kelly is well known among her readers as a writer of Regency romance, her main interest (and first writing success) is Western American fictionmore specifically, writing about America's Indian Wars. Although she had sold some of her work before, it was not until Carla began work in the National Park Service as a ranger/historian at Fort Laramie National Historic Site did she get serious about her writing career. (Or as she would be the first to admit, as serious as it gets.) Carla wrote a series of what she now refers to as the "Fort Laramie stories," which are tales of the men, women and children of the Indian Wars era in Western history. Her most recent gig with the National Park Service was at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site on the Montana/North Dakota border. Her mantra for writing comes from the subject of her thesis, Robert Utley, that dean of Indian Wars history. Her three favorite fictional works have remained constant through the years, although their rankings tend to shift: War and Peace, The Lawrenceville Stories, and A Town Like Alice.