Sherry Thomas has reinvented the old-school romance.
I don't know why I didn't see it before this. It should have been obvious in Private Arrangements. Damaged hero (ok, Camden is significantly less damaged than Vere) meets a ruthless heroine, willing to use whatever means are necessary to achieve her own ends. Maybe I didn't see it because Gigi from PA is much harder to sympathize with. Manipulating Camden into marriage might have been an act of desperation on her part, but it wasn't exactly a matter of life or death. Ellie may have been more ruthless in her methods, but it was, for her and her aunt, a matter of survival. She had one chance to save them and she instinctively grabbed it, knowing the consequences were certainly preferable to slow torture and eventual death at the hands of her uncle.
She's an *innocent* schemer.
I can't think of the last time I've seen that, but it may be something as old as Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Flame and the Flower. Where this bamboozled hero differs is that while he has very compelling reasons to feel resentful, he recognizes that he's completely incompetent at getting even, and he doesn't dig too deeply, or with any real gusto, into the old school hero's bag of dirty tricks to make the heroine suffer.
Another difference is that fairly early on, he starts to realize just how desperate Ellie's situation was, and he resolves to do the right thing by her, even though he isn't willing to give up his vision of wandering the earth lonely and alone, or perhaps in the company of an imaginary companion who never asks for or needs anything from him.
His conflict isn't just that of a man who resents being trapped into marriage. He's much more complex; honorable and innately good, even in the midst of his duplicity. Sleeping with Ellie is, in old school style, something that he gives into in moments of weakness, but his behavior the morning after never left me as disgusted as I have been with other heroes, past & present. I was more disappointed in him for not waking up with the realization that he was madly in love with Ellie and couldn't live without her.
I have to say though, that if this HAD happened, it would have been a much shorter book, and I would have been deeply disappointed with the author.
I highly recommend this story with the caveat that you shouldn't read it if you're looking for the customary level of angst in your average wallpaper romance.
Thomas makes you work & sweat for your HEA - which is something that I, as a reader, am pretty hungry for most of the time. Unfortunately, it's fare I rarely get these days, but that doesn't mean I ever stop hoping to find it.
If you have the chutzpah to long for every romance you read to be as emotionally grueling as a really angsty Laura Kinsale novel, this one has the stuff. Where it differs slightly, for me, is that where Kinsale sometimes makes me feel like my heart has been ripped out, ST leaves me more with the feeling that it was surgically removed by a mad scientist.
I don't think many romance writers nowadays have the confidence & sheer nerve to pull off this kind of internal conflict, much less write their way out of it credibly.
But Thomas has never shied away from writing angry, resentful heroes either. And at least she explained this one well in the final third.
I was truly upset & hurt (to the point of tears a couple of times) with him, the way that I used to get upset when reading old school romances. The difference here being that he didn't quite cross the line into unforgivable - to the point that an HEA lost all credibility for me.
I think he was angry, but I didn't think the sex was. Vere did asinine little things to punish Ellie, but he always realized afterward that they were stupid & had basically backfired on him, and hurt her in ways that he didn't intend. I never once believed that he really hated her or meant to do her any harm, so he lacked that old school hero obtuseness.
What I take away from all that, is that Thomas doesn't shy away from handing you that kind of angst & making you wallow in it a bit, but she has the insight & intelligence to not pull anything cheap.
And on the upside - His at Night has some unexpectedly hilarious moments, and the signature ST secondary romance is pretty darned sweet. *Hint*: Freddie, Gigi's erstwhile fiance from PA, finally gets his own (much deserved) HEA.
I give it an A+ (5 stars), and I will most definitely be reading it again - and soon.
A most enjoyable read. Light, yet with a bit of darkness to enhance the plot and the characters. I highly recommend it for its entertainment value. Could not put it down.
~ Couldn't bring myself to believe they fell in love - or really even knew each other (2.5 stars) ~
[End of the Victorian era - England]
HIS AT NIGHT is Sherry Thomas's fourth book, but the first of hers that I've read. Although I did not enjoy this book, I think Thomas is a talented author who has the ability to create interesting and complex characters. NOT QUITE A HUSBAND has very good reader reviews, so I think I will be checking it out from the library and reading it before deciding that Thomas isn't for me.
SUMMARY (from back cover):
"Elissande Edgerton is a desperate woman, a virtual prisoner in the home of her tyrannical uncle. Only through marriage can she claim the freedom she craves. But how to catch the perfect man? Lord Vere is used to baiting irresistible traps. As a secret agent for the government, he's tracked down some of the most devious criminals in London, all the while maintaining his cover as one of Society's most harmless - and idiotic - bachelors. But nothing can prepare him for the scandal of being ensnared by Elissande. Forced into a marriage of convenience, Elissande and Vere are each about to discover that they're not the only one with a hidden agenda. With seduction their only weapon - and a dark secret form the past endangering both their lives - can they learn to trust each other even as they surrender to a passion that won't be denied?"
Elissande (24) and Penny/Vere (29) were interesting, multi-dimensional, and complex and if this book had been a regular non-historical-romance book of fiction, they would have made for excellent character studies and I think I would be giving it a much higher rating. This *is* a historical romance, however, and for me it just did not fulfill what I want from books in this category.
A positive aspect of the book, aside from the engaging main and supporting characters, was the mystery subplot. It was interesting with some very good twists and even though I guessed some, there were others I was not at all expecting, but that made sense when revealed.
My main complaint is that for me, the romance was just not there. First, this is my first Thomas book so I don't know how sensual her stories normally are, but other than one scene, HIS AT NIGHT was sadly lacking in sexual tension and chemistry (there were other instances, but they weren't very inspiring).
Second, I don't find a romance very believable or enjoyable when for over half the book the heroine thinks the hero is - literally - an idiot and the hero dislikes the heroine. Second, I don't find a romance very believable or enjoyable when for over half the book the heroine thinks the hero is - literally - an idiot and the hero dislikes the heroine. They didn't spend enough time with one another as their "true" selves, without the masks and fake personalities to hide behind.
Another point of contention for me was that the book takes place over just a few weeks, yet in that time two strangers meet, think the aforementioned negative things about one another for half that time, and then fall in love while still pretending to be/think those negative things - this didn't at all ring true to me. Though they're supposed to share a sense of kinship and have a miraculously deep understanding of one another, it felt forced and unbelievable.
Do I think the characters of Elissande and Penny could fall in love? Yes. Do I think they could have a very happy and fulfilling marriage? Yes. But all of that is something I can picture post-book and I don't know about other readers, but I don't read romances to enjoy a great set-up: I want instant gratification, everything settled and in HEA-mode by the end of the book.
Final note: the marriage between Elissande and Vere was *not* - as suggested by the book summary - one of convenience, but rather a direct result of Elissande's manipulation and scheming. Yes, she has a very good reason to go to such lengths, since she desperately wants to get her aunt and herself out of her uncle's house, but this duplicity still made me very uncomfortable.
Marriages of Convenience
~ SLIGHTLY MARRIED (Bedwyn Family, Book 1) by Mary Balogh, 5 stars
~ THE ABDUCTION OF JULIA by Karen Hawkins, 4.5 stars
~ THE DEVIL IN WINTER (Wallflower Quartet, Book 3) by Lisa Kleypas, 4 stars
~ AT LAST COMES LOVE (Huxtable Quintet, Book 3) by Mary Balogh, 4 stars
Heroines Escaping Bad Home Situations
~ THE PERFECT RAKE (Merridew Sisters, Book 1) by Anne Gracie, 5 stars
~ HONOR'S SPLENDOUR by Julie Garwood, 5 stars
~ ALWAYS A SCOUNDREL (Notorious Gentlemen, Book 3) by Suzanne Enoch, 5 stars
~ HIS WICKED WAYS by Samantha James, 5 stars
~ MYSTIQUE by Amanda Quick, 5 stars
Heroes are Spies
~ LORD OF FIRE (Knight Miscellany, Book 1) by Gaelen Foley, 5 stars
~ SCANDALOUS (Banning Sisters Trilogy, Book 1) by Karen Robards, 5 stars
~ IRRESISTIBLE (Banning Sisters Trilogy, Book 2) by Karen Robards, 5 stars
~ ANGEL ROGUE (Fallen Angel Series, Book 4) by Mary Jo Putney, 4 stars
Hmmm, how do I review a novel I both loved and despised? That made me so uncomfortable because of its parallels to my own life, but that I still found myself reading voraciously?
I should start by saying that I do believe that Sherry Thomas is one of my favorite historical romance novelists. She just knows how to turn a phrase, make me believe in love at first sight, and has delightfully complicated heroes and heroines who manage to be both realistic and so very different from stereotype. I've loved the two books of hers that I've read prior to this book. And I really liked the idea of the characters in this novel, the idea of someone playing an idiot for spying purposes is one of my favorite plot devices (if it worked for Zorro then it can't be bad!), and I loved the initial interactions between Vere and Elissande.
BUT, this book hit *all* my trauma buttons. I found it really hard to read and get into the romance between the two main characters when I've been in very similar circumstances to several parties. It was bad enough knowing that my reaction to certain circumstances would be completely different from the way the characters in the book acted, but it broke my heart when the characters had the exact same feelings or reactions I have.
I would really caution anyone whose had an emotionally and physically abusive past, anyone with a family member suffering from a brain injury, and anyone who has had to grow up taking care of a complete invalid all alone and to the detriment of your own health and sanity to be wary about reading this book. It is a well written book with some beautiful moments, but it is so hard to read if you've had any or all of the above happen to you.