My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Miss Billings Treads the Boards, a clean regency romance, is another one of Carla Kelly’s single novels where I went in blindly. I liked it for the most part because there were some really witty dialogues throughout. However, it won’t be my favorite. Somewhere along the way, the story fell short of being amazing, which I thought it could’ve been.
In the beginning, we’re introduced to a Marquess, who is also a war veteran. Henry Tweksbury-Hampton, the Marquess of Grayson is filthy rich and lives the life of a laze about peer. Over the 7yrs since he’d been off the army and took his “role” of a peer seriously, Henry’s gone mellow. Even with a tall physique, these days his paunch shows. A thinning head of hair does his looks no good either. So, all in all, even though he’s one of the most sought after bachelors because of his title and wealth, Henry knows his shortcomings. He had a vague feeling that no one wanted him for himself but for what he can offer to them. The feeling though, has grown tenfold since he’s been taking care of his sister’s family too, and made his only nephew Algernon his heir. Algernon, who goes by as Algie, is really something of the sort. He’s a super-dandy, spendthrift and completely empty in the brain-box. To say that Henry worried over the future of his title is a gross understatement. But when, to allay that niggling suspicion, Henry ends up asking Algernon if he likes his uncle, things began going downhill. How exactly? Let’s see if I can elaborate in the following...
That Algie would reply like an idiot wasn’t a surprise. After all, he was an idiot. Even then, his reply saddened and irritated Henry to such an extent that he thought it’s time to take matters in hand. Obviously, Algie was brutally honest; the sole reason for his liking is because Henry pays his quarterly allowances in time. -_- So Henry simply cuts Algie off without a question. Then, after a few hours with his solicitor and making new arrangements, he decides he’s going to go away from London for a few days. Henry will spend a few weeks of peace at Pinky D’Urst’s estate. Even while thinking that, Henry knew he won’t have any peace there either. Pinky had a sister, who was, uh, too plain to entice Henry. She’s a spinster to boots, of an advanced year! So Henry hated the fact that they all, including Florence herself, expected him to marry her, an incident would never take place even if it meant Henry will be without an heir. But Henry needed a break from his bothersome and ungrateful relatives, so he simply runs away.
Along the way though, Henry’s straightforward plan is road-killed, quite literally. His dumb valet, who’d just lost his job and Algie, who doesn’t need any form of introduction, muck up a stupid plan of their own when they accost and shoot Henry. Well, don’t ask me to elaborate anymore cause the plan itself was so harebrained, I wasn’t sure what to think so I rolled my eyes and read on to know what happened next...
While Henry was being plagued by his dumb relatives and servants, the beautiful daughter of an eccentric village vicar, who loved studying Italian paintings, Katherine Billings was on her way to her own destiny, blank and unreadable as it was. Katherine’s father, who had a tidy fortune, lost it all by pursuing one painting or the other, only to turn out fake later. He passed away a couple of months ago, leaving last remaining gift to her, also a painting. Katherine is pretty sure it’s junk too. Only because it was literally the last thing he gave to her is why she couldn’t throw it away. When everything else was sold to pay off the debt, Katherine was bound to become a governess to a home far away from London. She didn’t like it at all but Katherine knew it’s her lot now and she should better get used to with it.
On the way though, her straightforward plan gets bungled when the coach dumps her in the wrong place, where she finds herself acquainted with one Gerald Broussard, a Frenchman who apparently came to fetch her. From there, fate took over and turned Katherine’s life upside down. She had heard rumors that the squire, whose children’s governess she was going to be, is a total lecher. Katherine was dreading her journey there. She didn’t know Gerald but thought he worked for the squire. His introduction of himself and where they were going...well, let’s just say was not well worded since his English wasn’t all that polished, and Katherine thought the worst! She slapped the daylights out of Gerald and asks to be returned to the inn where she was supposed to be waiting.
Thankfully, the misunderstanding is resolved soon when Gerald explains further. He works for a traveling theater. Though the squire and the owner of the troupe share the same name, they definitely aren’t the same person. And that she’s at the wrong place, her destination being quite far away from here. Though Gerald offers to drive her to her destination, Katherine decides she doesn’t want to. The theater is performing one of the Bard’s plays, and they’re now missing an actress, whom Gerald went to pick up and mixed up with Katherine. But she loved Shakespeare and so it happens that the big and loud theater manager gives Katherine the role for the day. Yes, she thought it’d be for the day. She can journey towards her destination come morning and pray that she still has a job. But for today, she’s gonna have some fun.
The play in question went well, Katherine tackling it somehow because 1. She had ample knowledge of the Bard’s plays and 2. Her role was a small one. But when she discovers a man, all bloodied, inside the troupe’s wagon, things again take an oddly hilarious turn. The man, thankfully alive, couldn’t tell who he was for a while since he was groggy from his injuries. Soon we learn that Henry, who was injured but not too badly, somehow made his way here and passed out. And his first eyeful was Katherine’s bountiful bosom—despite her extreme embarrassment, she dressed like a lascivious woman because her part called for it—which Henry appreciated more than anything else in the world. Then he saw Katherine and the deed was done. Henry was in love for the first time in his life, though no idea if it was Katherine’s beauty or her bosom. :/
Henry, who was quite liking being with the traveling troupe, decides that he’s going as Hal Hampton from now on until he feels like becoming Henry Tewksbury-Hampton, 5th Earl of Grayson. The people there knew he was a peer or the realm but he gave them the notion that his greedy nephew is trying to kill him for money and the whole troupe came to his rescue, eagerly hiding his identity from the outside world, even a runner who comes in search of him later. Henry was also enjoying Katherine’s undivided attention for she felt very responsible because, after finding him there she was so scared silly she had, uh, bonked him on the head with something that rendered him unconscious for the second time. With everything going good, Henry decides to stay with them for a time and see what fun they offer to his miserably lonely life.
However, though his journey with the traveling theater started out as a joke of sort, Henry soon finds that life with these so-called lowly actors AKA common people is a life he enjoys very much. We don’t get much background of his life in the army apart from the fact that he was quite a randy young man (then again, that’s not really news *eyeroll*). I wished I knew more so I could compare him with this older Henry. This older Henry is mellowed down and he wanted to find true love. Or at least someone who genuinely liked him for who he was. At this point, it seemed like Katherine Billings was that person. For a moment, he was about to tell Katherine he knew her cause they share the same solicitor and he’s got good news about that painting she thinks is junk, but he doesn’t find the time to tell her until later.
Katherine takes the news with much excitement, for the money she’s getting she’ll be able to buy that little house she’d been dreaming of. At least now she has no fear of a blank future. But things change for her when the owner of the traveling troupe, Malcolm Bladesworth loses a lot of money on a property he’s been eying for a while. Their whole future was tied to that old theater they were planning on refurbishing, then opening as their own. All the money they made in the past years, he, his wife Ivy, their daughters Phoebe and Maria, and only son David, even Gerald who has been with them for a long time since his childhood, lost... gone, all thanks to the a$$hole Malcolm thought was his friend. Who was supposed to have been taking care of their finance while they tour. Such sad, and utterly gut-wrenching news, casts heavy shadow on the otherwise boisterous group. The hired actors leave the moment they hear the news that the Bladesworths are literally broke. Lonely Katherine has come to think of the Bladesworths as her family because they’d been so kind to her, giving her a home and a job. How could she enjoy the dreams of an exciting future, when the Bladesworths will be thrown into streets soon, maybe in the poorhouse if no one does anything about it? She’s got the money! No, the kind Katherine can never enjoy the bounty, it was just too much.
Henry though, couldn’t help because he was in hiding and any query about money would make the point moot. But Katherine beats him to it anyway by buying the old, dirty theater on her own, then making Malcolm the manager of it. Now they have a new venture, a new challenge to go through. Now Katherine’s own future is also tied to this place for she hadn’t had much left after paying for that place. Her worry begins anew, because, once again, she’s starting out. Everything now depends on the success of this theater.
The rest of the story goes to show you how a band of most unlikely people can come together, work hard and make a stupendous success out of something from practically nothing. Katherine and the Bladesworths, even Henry, work hard to make the theater a success with a play written by Gerald. Katherine thought he had the potentials and he doesn’t disappoint. But can’t say the same for Henry and Katherine’s relationship, which wasn’t going that well. They were already acting as husband and wife to hide from Bow Street Runner, Will, who later becomes an important part of the theater and Katherine’s unwavering champion. Despite their intimacy, showy for Will’s convenience or real, Katherine was ever in doubt of Henry’s feelings towards her, her new station in life as a theater owner, not to mention, her family (the Bladesworths). And I couldn’t blame her. To be brutally honest, I was never that fond of Henry because of his snotty behavior. His thoughts about Florence were extremely demeaning and I kinda lost my respect for him there. I was sure it was Katherine’s beauty he was attracted to for a long time. Though his feelings for her grew later, and he did help out around the theater, Henry was not my ideal hero material in any way. I liked Katherine quite a bit for she does work really, really hard to make the theater a success.
Other than that, the story was entertaining and I enjoyed reading about the secondary characters, the Bladesworths, for they were a really loud and a little crazy, bunch of people. People you’d like to know better. :D 3.5 stars but I rounded up on 4.