I’ll read essentially any historical romance recommended by Mrs. Julien or Malin, and particularly one whose review earns a comment from beloved author Courtney Milan. So that’s how my attention was drawn to Say Yes to the Marquess, which is now my favorite historical I’ve read since The Suffragette Scandal.
Beer. I am way, way, embarrassingly into craft beer. I have even brewed myself. The intersection of beer knowledge and ambition with “Surprise! Ladies beer too!” knowledgebombing was just the most delightful thing.
So here’s a plot summary type thing. Miss Clio Whitmore has been engaged for eight lonely, questioning years to Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville. The reason for their extended engagement is basically that Piers is out of the country, a lot, and appears to have never found the time or motivation to come back and seal the deal with Clio. Well, lady is tired of waiting. Fortunately, she’s just inherited a castle from her uncle, and sees this as the perfect opportunity to strike out on her own. With her own property and a business plan (aforementioned brewery!) she doesn’t need marriage to a man who doesn’t want her to secure her future.
Enter Rafe Brandon, scoundrel brother-the-younger to Piers. Charged with managing Piers’ effects while he is away, Rafe feels responsible for, among other things, delivering Clio to Piers, ready and marriageable, as promised. To do this, he tries to honeypot Clio with all of the most fun parts of a wedding: the gorgeous flowers and decorations, decadent cakes, and the perfect princess dress — all to convince her that she just has cold feet, but won’t all of these pretty things help snap her out of it?
— Clio is just my favorite kind of heroine. She’s funny, smart, self-assured, and — above all — a no B.S. communicator. Seriously, a frequent trope of romance (not just novels, but like every rom-com or drama in TV and movies as well) is that if the leads were just honest with each other, the manufactured conflict would disappear. While I totally get the utility of the Great Misunderstanding in stories, I’m definitely much more interested in those that present an issue other than the couple failing to address each other like adults. All of that goes to say that Clio, at every turn, is upfront and direct about her feelings and plans for the future, which was such a welcome relief. But at the same time, she’s also not a completely idealized woman without faults. As much as she is confident in her own desires, she easily retreats into passivity when it comes to dealing with some of her truly awful family members. Whether it’s the innate desire to seek approval from blood relations or general acquiescence to society deportment, Clio struggles a bit to overcome the pressure — emotional and physical — of her mother and one of her sisters. This struck very true for me, because even the most confident women do have insecurity buttons, and when those buttons are pushed by those who claim to love you and have your best interests at heart, it’s especially difficult to reconcile those messages with what you rationally know to be true and right.
— Rafe’s mission is full of buffoonery of the highest degree, and it’s predicated on his assumption that Clio at her heart is a lady stereotype: pretty things! Weddings! This should make me angry, but I appreciate the way Dare wrote his lack of understanding. Because it’s obvious that he does appreciate and even respect Clio, and he’s more and more impressed by her the more time he spends with her, but he’s blinded by his desire to do right by his brother. As such, his wrongheadedness seems to be more the result of his desperation and trying anything that will stick, and less of him just trying to exert his will over Clio.
Mrs. Julien wrote at length in her review about willing suspension of disbelief, and another commenter on Goodreads quipped that Tessa Dare characters are essentially contemporary characters in regency clothing. I do have ignorance as a shield in this regard; I never was a very meticulous scholar of regency particulars. Even with some details being pointed out by others as potentially outlandish, though, I find myself not particularly caring. I think there’s a lovely sweet spot where the aforementioned suspension of disbelief and wish-fulfillment intersect, and books like this fall right in there. I find it easier to ignore the grey areas in accuracy when the book trades in them for the express purpose of giving the reader what s/he wants vicariously through the hero/ine. Which isn’t to say there should be no rules, but I don’t think anyone wants to read a historical that goes like
“I want to live in the castle that is mine by inheritance and brew beer there”
–“No, you’ll marry the Marquess and how could you even think you could do otherwise?”
“I suppose you’re right.” [cue loveless marriage]
YMMV when it comes to whether or not the wish-fulfillment aspect works for you, but when it does, those blinders sure can go on with any set dressing that is out of place. And I’m totally okay with that. Bottom line is I loved this book and am officially adding Dare to my auto-read author list.