2 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Though this has the trademark Heyer wit as well as the thoroughly well-crafted setting and side characters that you would expect, it’s just not very… romantic. Horry, the heroine, comes across as gullible and annoying, and though Rule is interesting in a typically controlling-stereotype way, it’s almost upsetting to see him fall for her. It’s unfortunate because it’s an interesting twist on the standard romance — they marry for convenience fairly early, he even keeps his mistress, but they fall for one another gradually… except the romance of it all just isn’t believable, and is, by far, the weakest part of this book!
The premise here is that Rule wants to marry, and needs to choose a suitable wife, preferably someone beautiful, respectful enough, and also quiet enough to not get in the way of the rest of his life (his mistress, his hobbies, etc).
When he offers for the beautiful Miss Lizzie Winwood, her younger sister Horry offers herself up instead, knowing that her sister prefers a more impoverished suitor (but that the family needs money, because of gambling debts).
Rule accepts, and the two marry.
He continues to keep his mistress, and his lifestyle. She begins spending money like mad, and her brother Pel involves himself in a series of hijinks.
If what you’d like to read is a well-written screwball comedy with some romance thrown in on the side, this isn’t bad (still not wonderful, but at least mediocre). Once you add in the romantic elements… it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense that Rule would gradually fall in love with his flighty, almost vapid wife (and I feel terrible saying that because Horry has a stutter… but her stutter has nothing to do with her lack of intelligence and willful impulsiveness).
There’s an interesting-enough side-villain, who tries to seduce away Horry to get revenge… but overall, this just wasn’t interesting. It could have been a battle of the wits (as Horry is always thinking that she’ll somehow teach Rule a lesson), but because all of her willfulness seems so juvenile, it throws off the balance of not only their relationship (which feels more like older uncle and recalcitrant child than husband and wife), but also the balance of the book.
Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
Heyer is to historical romance as Austen is to, well, literary historical romance. These were women who wrote unforgettable heroines with lots of tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s hard to think of a historical romance author today who hasn’t stolen something from Heyer (like Julia Quinn and Julie Anne Long, to name just a couple who have) or hasn’t benefited from reading her work. It’s not sensual, and there’s barely even kissing, so if you’re looking for that, go more modern. Otherwise, she is one of the most published and praised historical romance authors for a reason. If you’re interested in works by Heyer that I would recommend, try out Arabella or Frederica.