Here’s the premise: Elizabeth Goldsborough is the Incomparable beauty of the season, a resounding success, capped with an engagement to the most handsome and eligible gentleman of the day, Simon Bellgrave. But an accident leaves her with a disfiguring scar on one cheek, her betrothed has trouble even looking at the injury and so she releases him from their engagement. And he, the cad, takes off without the slightest protest. Elizabeth’s brother isn’t having her spending her days as an old maid, so he informs the man responsible for her accident, Captain Darius St John, that he’d better marry her to make reparation. And he, the cad, refuses. Until his snake of a sister tells him he mustn’t do it, whereupon he promptly offers for Elizabeth, and she accepts him.
And at this point, I’m probably at peak eye-rolling, because what kind of hero only does the honourable thing because his sister tells him not to? And what kind of daft heroine accepts a man like that? I can see that she might if she already knows and likes him, or if he at least presents himself in a gentlemanly manner, and puts a good face on the inevitable, but Darius is so rude and surly and totally bad-mannered that it’s hard to imagine any rational woman wanting him. And it’s not as if she would be entirely destitute if she doesn’t marry him, either. She has a brother to look after her, she has her own fortune, for heaven’s sake, she’s independent. She can wait it out for a man to come along who doesn’t care about her scar. The author makes a valiant effort to convince the reader that Elizabeth is completely unmarriageable now, because only a perfectly flawless face can possibly succeed in attracting a man, and the ton will ostracise her and bla bla bla… no, not convincing for a moment (as later events prove).
So she’s stupid, and he’s boorish and self-centred and rag-mannered and… yes, I disliked him pretty thoroughly at this point. He’s completely focused on his army career, and thinks all women are fickle, duplicitous witches, and with his own family as evidence, I can see where he’s got that idea from. Anyway, they marry and after a quick romp with her, he disappears back to the war, because heaven forfend that he should change anything in his life just because he has a wife (and possibly a child, given the romping interlude). And here’s where we’re back into eye-rolling territory, because at this point, for no reason whatsoever that I can ascertain, she decides she’s in love with him. Good grief.
There’s a strange scenario where she writes to him regularly, nice, chatty letters about what’s going on back home, which he reads out for the entertainment of his men, but it never once occurs to him to write back to her. She’s hanging about waiting for the letters to arrive every day and always being disappointed, so when he appears unexpectedly (because no, he couldn’t possibly have written to tell his wife he’s coming home, could he?), he finds himself cold-shouldered by all the locals who’ve gathered protectively around his neglected wife. And naturally he blames her for it. Because of course he does.
And so it goes on. Whenever there’s the least possibility of him behaving badly and misunderstanding everything and blaming his poor wife for everything he perceives is wrong (because women are wicked, duplicitous witches, so of course he does), he storms out in a huff, and it takes the whole book for him to dimly perceive, through the fog of his own prejudice and (frankly) stupidity that she’s actually quite nice really, despite being a woman. Honestly, his batman is streets brighter than Darius is.
The ending gets pretty silly, with his sisters having a starring role. I think it was meant to be funny, but I didn’t find it particularly amusing. But at least Darius realises what a treasure he has in Elizabeth, and they get their happy ending eventually, even though, as it turns out, scars fade with time and become fashion accessories, so Elizabeth’s prospects weren’t as ruined as we were all led to believe. Especially when she might become a duchess. There was one major historical error – a duke can’t ever resign his title or his entailed estates, whether or not there’s an heir. It was also mentioned at one point that if Elizabeth were a duchess and Darius died, she would lose her title, but that’s wrong, and since there’s a dowager duchess in this very book, I can’t imagine why the idea was even mentioned.
I’ve been pretty critical of this on a number of levels, but the fact remains that I galloped through it almost without taking a breath, and despite all the eye-rolling, I never once considered abandoning the book. So I concluded that it worked for me at some deeper level, despite the problems. It’s probably somewhere between a three and a four star read, but the writing was generally good, so I’m going with four.