Wednesday 21 January 2015
#CBR7 Book 4: "The Importance of Being Wicked" by Miranda Neville
Rating: 3.5 stars
Thomas Fitzcharles, the Duke of Castleton, is everything that is proper and dignified. The Dukes of Castleton tend to marry wealthy ladies of impeccable pedigree to enhance their holdings and fortune with each new generation. Thomas' father was an exception, marrying for love, and it's clear to Thomas that their marriage was not a success. As such, he is determined to win the hand of the eminently proper and extremely wealthy Miss Anne Brotherton, who thanks to being her grandfather, the Earl of Camber's sole heir, is the best catch of the season. He's surprised when he discovers that the demure Miss Brotherton is currently residing with her cousin, Mrs. Caroline "Caro" Townsend, possibly the least proper woman Castleton has ever met.
Having been raised nearly in isolation on her grandfather's estate, and until recently meant to marry a cousin who died, Miss Brotherton delights in being able to trick her fusty old guardians and escape to her cousin Caro's house in London. Caro, who fell madly in love with the reckless Robert Townsend at 17 and eloped with him, was disowned by the family as a result. Her marriage to Townsend was tumultuous and before he died, her husband had gambled away not only his fortune, but left his young widow in considerable debt. It doesn't mean that Caro has stopped supporting local artists, throwing lavish parties and generally trying to shock and scandalise the members of the Ton. Anne loves spending time with the colourful and different people she meets at Caro's, even though none of them seem to understand her passion for archaeology and ancient history. When Castleton arrives on their doorstep, to press his suit, Anne accepts that he will probably be exactly the sort of person her guardians want her to marry, but he doesn't really seem to have eyes for her whenever Caro is near. Could it be that "Lord Stuffy" (a nickname given to Castleton by Caro) is more driven by his emotions than he previously thought?
This is my first Miranda Neville novel. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the cover, but let's face it, it's actually the exception rather than the rule if I actually like a historical romance cover these days. There was a lot to like about her writing. I enjoyed that Caro was a widow, who despite the fact that her husband eventually descended into drunkenness and gambling addiction, still fairly happily recalled her marriage and mourned for her husband. I liked that Caro literally gave no fucks about the opinions of her relatives or most of polite society, but kept entertaining her friends because they were the ones who'd been nice to her when she was cast out in the first place, I also thought she did a pretty good job as a chaperone for her cousin, who was in no way compromised while in her care, while also making sure that young Anne didn't die of boredom. Having the heroine be a widow, and not of the "we never consummated the relationship" variety that seemed far too common in some Old School romances, and one who's experienced real passion, but also real heartache (she lost her child) was refreshing. Sure, Caro's financial practises aren't exactly the most sensible, she should totally stop feeding every starving artist who falls across her doorstep and make sure she can pay her debts, but she's also refuses to prostitute herself by becoming some man's mistress just to get enough money to pay said debts either. She has morals and principles, even if they're not exactly what a lot of the people judging her would like.
Castleton was a bit of a bore, it's true, but the fact that he's so aware of that himself makes it less of a flaw and more something to pity him for. His father was clearly extremely strict and refused to let young Thomas have many friends or any fun. Castleton has been bred for duty first and foremost and even when he starts falling for Caro, his main worry is that if he doesn't marry the stupendously wealthy Anne Brotherton or some other heiress, he won't be able to provide suitable dowries for his younger twin sisters. It's nice to read a romance that acknowledges that Dukes too could be in need of money, not just because of their reckless youths of promiscuity and gambling (which seems to be a common past time for aristocratic heroes). He doesn't feel a twinge of attraction towards Anne, and her passionate interest in archaeology bores him silly, but he's still determined to do his duty towards his family and his estates. He gradually lightens up the more time he spends with Caro, and has the tremendous grace to apologise when he realises that he's in the wrong. He tries to fight his attraction to her as long as possible, seeing as he's officially courting her cousin, but once he gives in, he does his best to convince her that he loves her just the way she is, scandal and all, and apart from becoming a bit more sensible with money, doesn't want her to change.
The main thing that detracted from my full enjoyment of this book was a subplot involving an expensive painting that Caro had in her possession. Several of her husband's old friends, all involved in art collecting in some way, are extremely interested in getting their hands on it, by hook or by crook. Caro refuses to sell it, because it's the last thing she has left to properly remember her dead husband by. There was a lot of silly plotting by people, first to figure out if Caro actually had the stupid painting, and then to try to gain possession of it. I didn't care for it, one bit. As this is the first book in a series of four, The Wild Quartet being Robert Townsend and his notorious school friends, several supporting characters in this book go on to become main characters later in the series. It was due to extremely glowing reviews of the last two books in the series that I decided to start at the beginning, and I found it a very promising start.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.