I enjoyed Loretta Chase’s A Duke in Shining Armor and The Dressmakers novels but wasn’t entirely where else to go in her back catalog. I noticed this novel had quite a few reviews, and decided to give it a shot even though most of the romances I have read have been written much more recently. Before this, the only 20th century romance I had read was Anya Seton’s Katherine and I hated that one (though it had a decent amount of historical detail). And Outlander. I didn’t enjoy that one, either, but when I bought it years ago, it was on a display with Game of Thrones so I was expecting a very different book. I have actually downloaded it again now that I enjoy romances but not gotten around to giving it a second shot.
So back to the book! There were some things that obviously dated the book. I like rakes and the redemption/taming stories well enough but Dain certainly took it an extreme. The hero who had a horrible childhood, and shut himself off emotionally is a common enough trope. They usually end up thinking they aren’t deserving or capable of love until the heroine changes their minds. I didn’t mind seeing a version of that trope in Dain, but he was also so much worse than the ones I’ve met in more modern romance: this is a man that actively hates and distrusts women rather than simply being a rake that keeps women at a distance but isn’t intentionally mean.
However, there were many things that I quite enjoyed about the novel and even felt unique! I loved the friendship between Jessica Trent and her grandmother Genevieve, and it actually felt much more progressive than what I have seen in some other romances. Many modern romances have friendships in them, and women that support each other in their pursuits of men, such as The Wallflowers series from Lisa Kleypas. Many also use the overbearing dowager that frightens everyone but also subtly plays matchmaker and makes knowing remarks or glances (Julia Quinn’s The Bridgertons has one of my favorites of this type). However, I have never seen these stories feature the women frankly discussing their feeling of lust and desire, or the things they have done with the hero. Hidden kisses stay secret and aren’t discussed with friends – and if they are, the resulting lust is certainly not a topic of discussion. It was so refreshing to see Jessica quickly identify her feelings, discuss them with her grandmother and even tell Genevieve about a passionate kiss in the rain and how it left her wanting more. I want more of that in modern romance, too!
Jessica Trent was an amazing hero, very logical and straightforward. She gets to the point, and while there are some misunderstandings in the beginning, Chase doesn’t waste time with them and clears them up before they lead to huge issues. Jess always tells her husband exactly what she wants and feels except when she is trying to prove a point about the difference between what he says he wants in a wife and what he actually wants, and even in this case, she warned him that she was going to do this.
The novel also adds some details about Sebastian’s past beyond his mother’s abandonment in the prologue of the novel (again, another thing I’ve seen a few times, especially when introducing damaged men who can’t love – like Simon from the first Bridgerton novel). I actually enjoy the short prologues about horrible childhoods, even if they serve as an excuse for the men to behave badly. While the extra bits of detail don’t excuse Sebastian’s hatred of all women, they help contextualize him and make him less irredeemable.
While I enjoyed Jessica and how she approached life and marriage, Chase added a few extra side plots that were more of a distraction than addition to the novel, namely the whole “plotting angry friend” part. It doesn’t take up too much time but it also felt entirely unneeded.
I also laughed at the comedic parts, another thing I’ve noticed Chase is rather good at inserting into her narratives. Jessica’s brother Bertie is absolutely useless, and his blundering about is hilarious. The various bets being made on Sebastian and the gossip he creates are also a fun little detail.
One other small quibble related to formatting: I read this on my Kindle app, and the e-book edition double spaced between paragraphs which I found slightly irritating. I usually think as the double space between paragraphs as a signal for a change in perspective, time or setting so it took me a while to adjust.
I sometimes highlight quotes while I’m reading and then forget to include them when I write my reviews (Wyrd Sisters had a good one I forgot about L) but I remembered this time, and wanted to leave you with this statement from Bertie when he sees Dain and Jessica together at a café. I thought it was rather hilarious:
“Don’t pay it any mind, Dain. She does that to all the chaps. I don’t know why she does it, when she doesn’t want ‘em. Just like them fool cats of Aunt Louisa’s. Go to all the bother of catching a mouse, and then the confounded things won’t eat ‘em. Just leave the corpses lying about for someone else to pick up.”