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I have to start by saying that Tessa Dare is my favourite Regency romance writer, but I have to admit that this was not her best work. The main characters in this book are not as complex as those in her other books. Toby is somewhat self-centred, even if he did help save Sophia's reputation when she jilted him. He winds up disappointing Isabel because of his lazy and selfish choice to conceal his decision to not make good on a promise he made her which convinced her to marry him. He is a likeable character though, and his charm falls off the page. Isabel is rather one-dimensional for much of the book: overly good, with a fear of disappointing others, and a mild fear of becoming her own parents. She only gets any spunk in the last chapters in the book, and it is too little too late.
The side story of Joss and Hetta's romance felt like it did not fit the main story. These characters were not particularly important to the main story, but rather to side stories that paid homage to the other two books. In a book that was supposed to be about Toby and Isabel, a lot of time was spent on the characters from the other books, especially Sophia. Though I understand that it was necessary to deal with the jilting, I think it was overdone. Tessa Dare does not make that mistake in her other, much better trilogy (the One, Two, Three trilogy); she lets the main characters in each book stand on their own much better.
The story line is fairly good, and stands up to the others in this trilogy, even if it is less entertaining than the first two. As I said before, the author tied in the other stories so that someone who had never read them could still enjoy this book, plus it made a refresher for those of us who read the first two novels. I don't like the titles in this trilogy, as they do not match the books well. How is this a book about persuasion? If is is meant to be subtle, it must be very much so, as I don't think it suits. If Isabel was a lady of persuasion, then why were all her inclinations so ill-founded and unsuccessful?
I think the end section of this book was somewhat difficult to swallow, with Toby and Isabel airing all their feelings and the resolution of their problems in front of a whole army of people they don't know. Also I thought the epilogue a little lame; it tried to tie the three stories together, but spent too much time on Gray and Sophia, and therefore did no justice to this particular story.
It sound from my comments above that I did not like the book. I did, very much. Tessa Dare is a cut above other Regency romance writers, and this book will be much more memorable than those of other authors.
I wish I could give it more stars because the ending really came through, but there were just several missing points I wanted to see. The story was also very slow and could have milked more from Bel's hidden personality traits or Toby's natural knack for politics. There just needed to be more.
The third book in the Wanton Milkmaid series. I didn't love it as much as the other two in the series, but I find that third books in series often tend to lose their steam. I did appreciate the fact that there wasn't as much forced action, as there were decisions by the characters that created the action. I'm also glad Toby got his own story. Every so often it's nice to read a story about a charming, happy, well-adjusted guy with no hidden pain getting his own happy ending.
Isabel is a different sort of character to those on the previous two books, less what I would normally want in the female lead but I still enjoyed the book. The glimpses of previous characters are enjoyable and not forced and the bonus romantic pairing is good too. 3 stars or 3.5 romance stars
I feel that Ms. Dare had a great idea for a heroine, but had a hard time wrestling that idea into submission, while at the same time feeling pressure to bring back all the main characters from the previous two books in the series (sometimes plausibly, sometimes not - see also: final scene). Toby is great to laugh with and at, falling prey to what many of us have a habit of doing in idealizing the object of one's attraction. Isabel, however... well, she was nearly interesting. I liked "Surrender of a Siren" better, and "Goddess of the Hunt" was a solid start. Go back to those, if you haven't read them yet.