What we have here, I think, is partly a novella problem, and partly a fanservice problem.
Tessa Dare has written fabulous novellas — my favorites being The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright and Beauty and the Blacksmith — but I so frequently find myself underwhelmed by novellas in general that I can’t help but believe they’re just tricky by nature. They’re so short that character development must be sacrificed, and whatever obstacle standing in the way of the characters’ HEA needs to be overcome quickly enough to fit in at least one or two love scenes. It’s a lot to do in under 200 pages!
A common shortcut, and the one Dare has employed here, is to have the characters already be well-acquainted and indeed to already have some sort of romantic history — a previous stolen kiss, or, in Elinora Browning’s case, an intimate friendship that seemed poised to go to the next level, until Lord Dashwood up and left England, and Nora along with it. Feeling jilted and looking to reclaim her sense of self-worth, Nora authored a pamphlet celebrating overlooked young women and encouraging them to stand on their own two feet. This pamphlet ends up selling like hotcakes and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it does especially well among the Spindle Cove set — that seaside town of Dare’s invention for “eccentric” or ignored women — and Nora is on her way to Spindle Cove to give a talk when she finds herself forced to share a conveyance with none other than Lord Dashwood. Even worse, traveling through a thick snowstorm, the coach capsizes and the two take shelter for the night in a cramped, abandoned cabin. Hijinks ensue, and…
The story of Nora and Dashwood, aka George Travers, is itself not bad. The two have an undeniable chemistry, and Dashwood’s bid at the end to win Nora over once and for all is very sweet. But it is also very cold! The snowstorm is an ever-present, unassailable menace. That these two get down to their skivvies and beyond in a rinky-dink cabin surrounded by bitter, freezing cold just seems too impossibly uncomfortable to be sexy.
Beyond that, though, the biggest issue was that in an already limited number of pages to devote to our main couple, Dare spent a surprising amount of time back in Spindle Cove with former heroes and heroines of the series. This is where I feel she got caught up in a bit of fanservice, because the last time we got a Spindle Cove novel was back in 2013 (2+ years is a long time in the romance world) and I imagine that in our re-introduction, Dare wanted to re-establish these characters and set the stage for the next Spindle Cove novel. This is all fine and good in theory, but I — surprisingly, considering my love for many of these characters — found these parts rather irritating! They added up to little more than the male characters posturing about how well-suited they are to married life, amorously speaking, and the female characters tittering about how didn’t it seem like their husbands were especially vigorous that morning? Two things are still clear from these sections: Pauline (Any Duchess Will Do) is the loveliest person, and Colin (A Week to be Wicked) is capable as ever of melting panties through sheer force of humor.
The thing I liked most about Lord Dashwood Missed Out is that symbolically it portends a return to Spindle Cove, to give some remaining characters their resolutions. The potential there is still powerfully magnetic, because Dare’s writing style is so witty and charming that I always enjoy her books despite any weaknesses in the story.