I downloaded this for free on Kindle ages ago, I think maybe after I read a review of it on CBR somewhere? I no longer remember. Anyway, I was reading old Kindle downloads over the summer, and I finally got around to this one, and it was so enjoyable! (It’s currently on Kindle Unlimited.)
Millicent Boarder, her two sisters, and their mother are taken in by a wealthy cousin who turns out to be an unkind miser. When he dies unexpectedly, Millicent decides that rather than be turned out into poverty, she will take on her cousin’s identity, and Millicent Boarder instead shall die of the fever. She becomes Mr. Anthony North, wealthy landowner and gentleman, with $20k pounds a year, and completely takes on the guise of man of the house. In her year or so of genderbending, she meets the Duke of Trolenfield, Timothy Shoffer, and they become fast friends.
Millicent has decided to play the fool as a distraction from her disguise, and she is so witty that she wins over most of the people she meets. She also falls secretly in love with Shoffer, all the while she becomes involved in his and his family’s life. His sister Beth is a terrible wallflower, and Shoffer engages “North’s” help bringing her out of her shell. There are some villains and conflicts here (an evil abusive duchess, a real actual rake who isn’t charming or good-hearted) but mostly the main conflict comes from the main premise: Millicent turns out to be excellent at “being a man,” but she can never be with Shoffer as long as she maintains the ruse, which is designed to keep her family out of the workhouses. It’s also a very funny read, witty just like Millicent.
Really the only two things keeping me from giving this five stars is that it was a little bit too long (I think quite a few bits in the middle needed trimming), and the characters exhibited some homophobia. This is really not surprising, considering it’s set in Regency England, where homosexuality could get you hanged, but I’m so used to reading historical romance where the characters are rebelling against societal norms that it threw me. Especially for a genderbent romance! That has baked into it characters who push the boundaries of gender. This is what I meant about its weird historical verisimilitude. It’s such a fine, strange line the author walks, leaning so far into ridiculousness, and yet still somehow making it plausible, and within contemporary social possibilities.
If you’re curious SPOILER there is a significant plot point where the rake character (who is mad that Shoffer won’t let him marry Beth) starts a rumor about North being a homosexual, and because they spend so much time together, the rumors begin to affect Shoffer as well. This was a poisonous accusation at the time, so it really freaks all the characters out. Worst case scenario, someone is hanged. But even if you don’t reach that point, being ruined socially for both Shoffer and North (aka Millicent) could mean significantly different futures for their respective sisters). It’s really a very practical fear on all their parts, but there are also a couple of moments where the characters do experience genuine horror at the idea that isn’t completely tied to potential fear of ruin, and while this is accurate historically, I could personally have done without it END SPOILERS.
If you’re a historical romance fan, I think this will be a good time. It pokes fun at the genre all while being a good example of it at the same time.