5.0 out of 5 stars
Love how the conflict was resolved in the third act.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 15 October 2022
Reader, beware: there’s swearing, graphic sex, mentions of a past suicide, parental cruelty and neglect in both main characters’ past, and the usual idealization of white wealthy men “of good conscience.”
This novel starts within days of the ending of Cold-Hearted Rake; the two protagonists, and many of the secondary characters, are introduced in that book, and the initial conflict is set up in the last chapter: Devon Ravenel, Lord Trenear, had set up his friend Winterborne to marry his cousin, the beautiful, innocent and fragile Lady Helen, very much against the wishes of her sister-in-law, Kathleen, who soon finds a reason to force an end to the engagement. 1
The thing is, Helen wasn’t coerced into accepting Winterborne’s proposal; first, because she’s much more sensible and pragmatic than she’s given credit for by most everyone around her, from Kahtleen to Winterborne. Second, because she’s attracted to him.
So, in a move that reminded me of “A Holiday by Gaslight” (though this novel actually predates that novella by a couple of years), Helen decides to inform Winterborne that they’re still engaged, thank you very much, and what are they going to do about it?
And we are off to the races.
There are a lot of tropes deployed in this novel. Secrets, villains, trysts; the strict rules of behavior demanded of young women of ‘good birth’ clashing with the unsavory realities of life under the thumb of the men of their class, along with some glimpses of the desperate reality of poor people in Victorian London.
In my review of the first novel, I said that these books are ‘gentler’ than past Kleypas offerings, and by that I mean that for the most part, the heroes make themselves vulnerable to the heroines. Generally, in Kleypas’ historical fare, the reader knows how much these privileged/wealthy/powerful men care for their heroine, and how far they’d go to make her happy, while the heroine is pretty much in the dark. Not so in this series, at all!
This is, generally, a radical departure for a lot of the historical romance fare of just a decade ago, and it is very much my jam.
While we spend about the same amount of time with each of the two protagonists, it’s Helen who grows the most as a person; not only because she’s naturally shy, plus her heretofore really sheltered life, compared to Rhys’ much larger world, but because she learns to stand up to those she cares for as firmly as she stands up to those she despises.
Throughout the book, Helen makes a series of decisions that make sense not just given who she is, the realities of her life and circumstances, her upbringing, family, and class; but which are also reasonable given all that she has come to know about Rhys in the months of their acquaintance, as well as through the people in her circle who know him well.
Something else that’s very much my jam in this book in particular, and what makes it my favorite of the series, is that Ms Kleypas does not fall for the easy (and tired) misunderstanding, or the dramatic violent confrontation.
The resolution to the big conflict between Rhys and Helen felt perfectly refreshing to me, and yet, also perfectly in character; because we have seen them both together and apart, and we know enough about his feelings for her to understand his actions.
With one or two exceptions, all the secondary characters in the novel are people which their own lives and preoccupations independent of Helen and Rhys’ relationship, which helps ground the story within the genre romance historical chronotope.
I also enjoyed the further character development of Helen’s younger twin sisters, Pandora and Cassandra, and the introduction of Dr Garrett Gibson, billed as the only woman doctor in Britain (named in honor of the historical Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first and only woman member of the British Medical Association for nearly two decades).
I also have to make a note saying that the description of Helen’s migraines was absolutely spot on; I will forever bitch about unhooking corset busks without loosening the laces (and don’t get me started on hooking them again without touching those laces), but credit where due: I absolutely felt Helen’s migraines in my own body.
Marrying Winterborne gets a 9.50 out 10 for me.
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1 As much as I liked Cold-Hearted Rake, Kathleen’s “I know best, so I won’t bother to actually listen to you”, annoys the ever loving life out of me.
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