Portia Haverall was raised by an academic and taught to be a thinking woman. Then, her father decided she was a bit too shrewish and outspoken–that she’d never marry unless she could be a proper lady. After one too many fights where he cut Portia out of his will, Haverall suddenly dies, leaving Portia alone and penniless. When she fails to find a relation to take her in, Portia spends the night unchaperoned at a public inn. In the middle of the night, a terrified woman pounds on her door for sanctuary. When the woman is pursued into the room by “the Beast”–a giant, uncouth looking man–Portia does the only sensible thing: she knocks him out with a bedwarmer.
Unfortunately, the Beast is actually an Earl, and he’s just scared away the companion he was fetching for his ailing mother. Knowing what it feels like to disappoint a parent, Portia agrees to become Lady Dewhurst’s companion herself.
The Earl of Dewhurst is not good in polite society. He abandoned it after being laughed at and dubbed the “Ox of Oxford” by a debutante he proposed to in his youth. Now the hulk-like Earl is a dedicated farmer–and it shows in his unfashionable dress, brusk manner, and aversion to society. Though she is confined to a wheelchair after an accident, Lady Dewhurst is desperate to find her stubborn son a wife. Who could be better than the sharp-tongued Portia to whip him into shape and give him a makeover?
As Portia transforms Connor into a gentleman and herself into a lady, the gentle giant and shrewish woman begin to admire each other. From there, the complications are myriad: Connor resists the fashionable, tight clothes he’s asked to don. He must be taught to waltz. He has to learn to conduct himself in aristocratic society–and how to hold a houseparty filled with promising partis. Tongue-tied and awkward (and apt to split his breeches in public), Connor feels unable to banter with anyone–except Portia.
Meanwhile, Portia discovers that “acting like a lady” means betraying her identity. Is it worth smothering herself just to make up for disappointing her dead father? After all, he made her what she is.
Lady Dewhurst, who has a few tricks up her sleeves, makes a compelling secondary character. However, many of the others blend into the background. The reappearance of the woman who humiliated Connor ten years earlier is disappointing, predictable, and implausible.
Nevertheless, I found Joan Overfield’s book charming and engaging. When I read the title, I feared it would be a rougher version of the more typical “member of ton makes over awkward country girl” trope. Instead, we have a Regency retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” but with a more likable hero. The character chemistry is excellent and the protagonists refreshing. Connor and Portia are invaluable foils for each other, serving as catalysts for character growth. In the end, A Proper Taming is about self-discovery as well as romance.
While chaste, Overfield’s novel manages to be both erotic and humorous. Out of all the Regencies I’ve read so far, A Proper Taming is one of my favorites. I love a book that departs from old tropes. Connor–awkward and innocent–and Portia–tart and tough–achieve a more believable relationship than most protagonists in romance novels. I can definitely see their relationship flourishing beyond the final page.
Highly recommended. If other Avon romances are this good, I will be very happy to have discovered this line.