How to Court a Covert Lady – Jenny Hartwell

Thanks, NetGalley and Dragonblade Publishing for the gifted copy of How to Court a Covert Lady. I am leaving this review voluntarily. Unfortunately, I’m giving this novel two out of five stars. 

Miss Pippa Chester has dreams beyond knitting and sewing like the typical society miss. She reads, writes, and fences at the Ladies Covert Academy, or Ladies Charitable Association to the outside world. Ladies come to the academy to pursue interests unacceptable to society, such as self-defense, botany, and politics. Pippa’s efforts at self-defense; however, seem as though they’ve come to naught when she’s blackmailed by Lord Jack Hartwick into helping him find his missing sister or he’ll reveal the Academy’s secrets. Embarking on a mission with more danger than they anticipated, Pippa and Lord Hartwick come to an unsteady understanding – and then much more – as they set out to find the missing Lydia. 

Honestly, I really liked the premise of this book. It reminded me of The Inferno Club series by Galen Foley, which I found to be enjoyable. However, reading through the novel, it became pretty clear that there was an agenda to the book, the plot wandered, and the progression was unoriginal. 

How to Court a Covert Lady involves a group of empowered women who want more from life than what it has to offer them. Of course, there had to be smart women throughout history who wanted academic pursuits – otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this post or voting. I liked the idea of having a “secret” organization dedicated to it, and that the group did actual charity work to maintain their cover. However, it blows my mind that this group was not discovered soon after it started, because all Jack had to do was hide in the bushes and watch Pippa fencing to figure out that it wasn’t a charity club. 

Speaking of bad detecting, Pippa makes some solid observations about Lydia’s disappearance, which is partly why Jack wants to keep working with her. But, there is one point early on in the book where Pippa chastises Jack for not investigating Lydia’s room – and then, much later, realizes that she neglected to search her office in the Academy. I thought that was a pretty hypocritical point and also didn’t reflect the insight that Pippa had previously shown.

Since we’re on Pippa and her insight, let’s get to the not-so-hidden feminist agenda of this novel, which irritated me. I have no issue with empowered women. I have rights because of empowered women. But, there are such things as subtlety and finesse, and this feminist agenda had none of it. Pippa, at one point, actually uses the word “misogyny” to Jack while chastising him. We also see through her perspective how she’s ‘seeing Jack change’ throughout their acquaintance to respect women. From Jack’s perspective we get much of the same: “maybe women can think about politics, etc.”

I think that even if Pippa were mute, she would still portray a strong woman, and that’s why the overtness of feminism in the dialogue bothers me. If Hartwell had removed every verbal piece of that issue out of the novel, you still would be reading about a strong woman and a man whose opinion of women had altered by the end. The feminist dialogue is unnecessary, and I feel that it actually took away from the book rather than added to it. Nothing that Pippa said altered Jack’s opinion of her; his mind was changed because of what he observed. 

The talk about misogyny in this novel bothered me, but so did the literal use of the word misogyny. Britannica says that the term wasn’t popularized until the 1970s, which I looked up for the sole purpose of it not seeming right in this novel. The constant use of ‘LCA’ as an abbreviation for Ladies Covert Academy was also very 21st century and I don’t think it would have been used in the time period. 

Let’s get to the plot and progression so I can wrap up. I found both the mystery and romance plots to be multidirectional and poorly executed. The solution to Lydia’s disappearance was staring me in the face from the moment we got a grasp of who Lydia was, but it took Jack and Pippa forever to follow the trail. I didn’t really mind that, because detecting is hard work, but there was so much back and forth between the mystery and romance elements of the story that it was quite maddening to follow. I believe the two could have been tied together more elegantly so there were fewer jumps from logic to romance in a period of time. 

I’m glad the mystery plot was at least completed, but the conclusion was pretty disappointing and I think Pippa and Jack took quite a few logical reaches to get to the conclusions they did. There was one involving Debrett’s Peerage leading them to the culprit and I’m still not sure how they accurately got from A to B, given their sometimes dubious investigative skills. The culprit also appeared like a Bond villain at the end, which was over the top. 

The romance plot was full of love-at-first-sight waxings, the usual conflict of splitting up to save a reputation, and the inevitable denouement where we realize that happiness trumps reputation. 

All in all, I found this novel to be disappointing as far as romances and mysteries go. There wasn’t really anything unique in either. I recognize that writing a novel is really hard work and that this is one of Hartwell’s first books – so I hope that I can give a more positive review of her future works. Loved the premise, not the execution.

Published by SamIAmReading

I am an avid reader and lover of historical mysteries and romances, but happy to take review requests and expand my horizons! All opinions in this blog are my own and have been given freely.

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