Sunday, 10 November 2013

#CBR5 Book 133. "The Sum of All Kisses" by Julia Quinn

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Having drunkenly challenged his friend Daniel Smythe-Smith to a duel after a round of cards, Hugh Prentice ends up shot in the leg, and crippled for life. He's lucky enough to recover enough that he can walk, but has to use a cane, and will never be able-bodied again. After several years of Daniel Smythe-Smith being on the run from assassins hired by Hugh's father, Hugh has had more than enough of the whole business and tells his father that if anything untoward happens to Daniel, Hugh will kill himself. As his father seems to count on Hugh to marry and provide an heir, he calls off his hired killers, and Daniel can return safely to England, which he does and promptly falls in love with his sisters' governess, in A Night Like This.

Daniel and Hugh forgive each other, but Hugh has never been able to forgive himself. The only person who hates Hugh more than he does himself, is probably Lady Sarah Pleinsworth, who feels that he destroyed not only Daniel's life with the disastrous duel, but ruined her chances at an advantageous marriage. Sarah was supposed to have her debut along with Daniel's sister, Lady Honoria, when Daniel had to flee the country. The scandal meant they had to wait, and Sarah is convinced that one of the fourteen eligible gentlemen who proposed to someone else during that season could now have been her husband. So when Lady Honoria is getting married to Marcus Holroyd (see Just Like Heaven), and Sarah is asked to not only sit next to Hugh, but take special care of him, and make him feel like a welcome guest during the wedding festivities, she's not exactly thrilled.

Hugh thinks Sarah is a melodramatic harpy, and has never forgotten that the first time they met, Sarah unleashed a torrent of vitriolic ranting at him for all the damage she felt he had done to Daniel, Honoria, herself and her younger sisters. He has no choice but to attend Lady Honoria's wedding to show how well things are patched up with the Smythe-Smiths, but he wishes he could spend more time with the younger Pleinsworth sisters rather than Lady Sarah. Despite the personal feelings of Sarah and Hugh, though, it soon seems like several members of the Pleinsworth and Smythe-Smith families are determined to throw the two together as much as possible, and when Sarah injures her ankle and is temporarily just as crippled as Hugh, they discover that their initial dislike for each other may be turning into something else.

This is the third novel in the Smythe-Smith quartet (I suspect the fourth and final book in the series will be about Iris, another lady of marriageable age), and so far the one I've liked the most. Because of Hugh and Sarah's initial antipathy towards each other, they have some truly snarky banter, and it's fun to see a couple turning gradually from dislike to attraction. Hugh is a much more troubled hero than Marcus Holroyd or Daniel Smythe-Smith, never able to forget his foolishly impulsive challenge, and living with the painful (both physical and emotional) after-effects every day. He didn't hesitate to threaten his father with his own death if Daniel couldn't return home safely, as he really feels that his life is worth more to his loathsome father than it is to himself. All he has is his brilliant mind, he can no longer dance, or hunt, or properly woo a lady, so he's quite convinced he's going to die alone and unloved.

Sarah may seem shallow, overly dramatic and obsessed with finding a husband, but as long as she is unmarried, she's forced to participate in the annual Smythe-Smith musicales, being humiliated when she and her tone-deaf cousins are forced to perform for friends and family. When she's actually forced to spend some time with Hugh, she realises that long term, the duel had more disastrous results for him than for any of the Smythe-Smiths or their cousins, and starts softening towards him.

My main complaint with this novel was the complications caused by Hugh's father, who is a moustache-twirling maniac villain of the worst order, with no clear motivations other than being evil and erratic and wanting to control his sons' lives. I wish something else had been used as the issue that needed resolving before the couple's happy ending, but the first three quarters of the book, with the cameo appearances of the previous two books couples, and a number of fun supporting characters, like the younger Pleinsworth sisters, were strong and fun enough that I can rate this four stars.

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