Rose Pearson is a new author to me, although I’ve seen her books gracing the best-seller lists for some time. This one tempted me with its premise: our hero and heroine are nudged into an arranged betrothal by their respective parents. They agree to it, although she insists that he has to propose first. He fails to do so, and is so terrified at the prospect of marrying her that he scoots off to India. But when he eventually returns, he knows he’s expected to do his duty and he’s still terrified. She, for her part, worries about marriage without any sort of affection. It’s all a bit of a muddle. And into the middle of it comes another candidate for the lady’s hand…
Right from the start, it’s obvious that this is going to be heavy on the angst and misunderstandings. If the couple could just sit themselves down with a nice cup of tea and talk it all out, there would be no story. However, the author makes the two of them credibly unable to do this. In the first place, after a very brief courtship and more than a year apart, neither of them is at all sure what they feel about the other. Also, Philip is endearingly socially inept (for a viscount), and manages to mess up every conversation with the lady, when he manages to speak at all. Marianne is a good Regency girl who isn’t supposed to express strong emotion, even when she feels it. So although there is a whole heap of angst, it feels quite believable, and I was rooting for poor, tongue-tied Philip to get his act together and tell her how he feels.
So let’s get the negative stuff out of the way, and these are just minor points that probably won’t bother anyone but me. I’m a demon for spotting title errors in Regencies, and this one has a couple. Lord Henry Redmond, the other potential husband for Marianne, is the heir to an Earl. That would give him a courtesy title, most likely a viscountcy, so he’d be Lord Something, not Lord Henry (which is a courtesy title reserved for the younger sons of dukes and marquesses). Also, Marianne’s maid calls her ‘my lady’, which she isn’t, at least she doesn’t have the title Lady Marianne, being only the daughter of viscount. Don’t you just love the British peerage? The maid would call her ‘miss’, or ‘Miss Marianne’, or perhaps ‘madam’. One other mistake – Marianne’s sister should be addressed as Miss Harriet. She’d only be Miss Weston if her sister wasn’t there. On the other hand, everyone correctly calls Philip by his title, Galsworthy, even his mother. Kudos to the author for getting that right.
There were some social oddities. The story opens in September, which is described as the very end of the season, but usually the season ended in July or so, when everyone decamped to the country for the start of the shooting season in mid-August. I don’t know why so many people were still in town so late. Some of the social interactions felt a little odd to me – everyone conversing freely around and across the dinner table, for instance, and although the ladies changed for dinner, the gentlemen appeared not to (Lord Henry is invited to dinner on the spur of the moment). And one inconsistency: after a dinner at Marianne’s house, there’s mention of driving home afterwards. I also wondered why two girls of marriageable age were left to wander around town with only a maid as a chaperon. Where was their mother? Or failing that, an aunt or married cousin to look after them.
One other grumble: the whole premise of the book is the question of the betrothal – are they betrothed or aren’t they? And the question of whether they can break it off. There’s some suggestion that he could break it off, but her reputation would be damaged if she were to do it, which is the opposite of the usual (it’s generally accepted that a gentleman does not break off an engagement). But of course they aren’t really engaged… or are they? They have been corresponding for more than a year, which is generally taken as evidence of a betrothal. I found it all very confusing. A betrothal was a pretty binding agreement in those days, so it was as well to know just whether you were or you weren’t.
So things chug along quite nicely for a while. Yes, there’s a lot of angsting but that’s signalled right from the start so it’s no surprise, and our hero and heroine seem to be getting along quite nicely. Happy ending ahoy. So what can possibly go wrong? The plot, that’s what. The author decided to throw a spanner in the works and… it’s completely over the top. Now, I get that the author wanted to ramp up the tension at the end, but it was just too much for me. Sorry.
For anyone whose powers of suspension of disbelief are greater than mine, you might well enjoy this. It’s very readable, and the story’s an interesting and unusual one. But I didn’t like the fudging of whether they were engaged or not, and the melodramatic ending keeps the rating down. Most of the book is a solid four star, but that ending is just two stars for me, so that averages out to three stars.