My advise is to skim through the first five to six chapters -- they're a bit slow going and repetitive. However once you've breached the sixth chapter mark, "Gilding the Lady" becomes a very enjoyable and fascinating read about a young woman fighting to put all her old fears and insecurities behind her and save herself from an unjust accusation of murder.
Although Clarissa Fallon was born a gentlewoman, her life has not been an easy one -- growing up in poverty, she was first, sent to an orphanage when her mother died and her elder brother, Matthew, was thought to be dead, and later sold into servitude. Except that Matthew was not dead. And when several years later, Matthew, with the help of his new wife, Gemma, finds her, Clarissa really thought that all her troubles were behind her. Except that Clarissa is finding it to be exceptionally hard going trying to adjust to her new life of luxury, feeling very much a fraud, and fearing that someone will recognise that she was once a servant and make her and Matthew the laughingstocks of the ton.
And then one day, Clarissa sees the matron of the hellish orphanage that she was sent to in one of the fashionable streets of London. Clarissa confronts her dragon, only to have her run off after a fierce face off. And when later the ex-matron is found murdered, Clarissa finds herself high on the suspect list. But this time, Clarissa need not fear facing the world on her own. For now she has Matthew and Gemma on her side, and unexpectedly the worldly Earl of Whitby, who has decided not only to help Clarissa find her place in Society, but to help her establish her innocence as well...
Because "Gilding the Lady" is a follow-up to "Vision in Blue" much of the interesting bits of this novel (what goes on in a badly run orphanage, poverty, and the kind of difficult lives that servants lead) was a little stale -- esp if you've just recently finished "Vision in Blue." And if Clarissa had been a different sort of heroine, the first few chapters of the book might have been a tad more engaging. As it was, even though I tried to empathise with her fears and feelings of inadequacy, I did get tired of her self-pity after a bit. Fortunately, this is where the murder inquiry sets in -- the pacing picks up, the storyline livens up and Clarissa matures almost beyond recognition as she discovers something else to focus on aside from all her shortcomings. It is also at this point that the chemistry, hitherto quite a bit absent between our hero & heroine, starts to sizzle. And I'll say this for our stiff and aloof hero, the Earl of Whitby, he does know how to capture a girl's interest -- that scene in the carriage where he kisses Clarissa's wrist was very sensual. The biggest problem I had with "Gilding the Lady" however, was that the subplot dealing with Gabriel Sinclair's (from "Dear Impostor") search for his natural father kept intruding where it really wasn't wanted, and gave this novel an off center feel. I know that this search is what links several of the author's previous novels together, and serves as a set up for her next few books, but I really did think that this subplot intruded and detracted from the overall cohesive feel of "Gilding the Lady."
Nicole Byrd is an extremely talented author, and I have enjoyed previous novels by her immensely (most notably "Robert's Lady," "Dear Impostor" & "The Beauty in Black") and once Clarissa pulled herself out of her doldrums and started focusing on something else other than her shortcomings, "Gilding the Lady" proved to be a rather good read too. All in all a very good 3 1/2 star read.