4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
This is a nicely done, slow-boil type of book. It’s got arranged marriages and feelings of duty and sacrifice, but done with a deft, (mostly) light hand that keeps the book just moving along. There are some villains, believable side plots and characters, and a touch of drama. More than any of that, it has characters that are not only relatable, but completely believable within that time period: a man who has few qualms with picking a wife out of duty/obligation and then continuing his life with his mistress, a heroine who tries to be obedient, but does also, have flashes of independence (as opposed to full-on 21st century strong-willed-ness). I felt that the ending stubborness dragged just a little, but that otherwise, this was a highly enjoyable read.
Lord Geoffery Astor has just inherited an estate and title from a distant relative. He’s appreciative, as he prefers to live a more extravagant lifestyle, but also cognizant of his duties. He offers to marry one of his late relative’s three daughter, whichever they’d like him to pick.
He worries that he’ll be saddled with same ugly antidote and is initially relieved to find that their eldest is quite the beauty.
He’s initially quite disappointed to hear that it’s not Frances, the elder beauty, but Arabella, the slightly plump middle child, he is to wed.
She’s 18, and quite naive, and often a bit tongue-tied around him. Still, he knows his duty, and follows through with his promise. He brings her back to London (along with his new sister-in-law Frances), and their relationship develops very, very gradually.
First, he finds that he prefers her genuine chatter and forthrightness to her sister’s timid (often teary) sensibilities.
Then, he finds himself wondering at how well she adapts, how natural she is with everyone, the ease with which she makes friends and comforts even the most downtrodden amongst society.
It’s a slow-boil type of a book. Geoffrey very, very slowly warns to the idea that his wife might be more than a duty, and similarly, Arabella slowly gains confidence.
There is a dramatic-showdown that lasts a little longer than I’d like near the end (she finds out about his mistress and feels horribly crushed, all faith destroyed, etc), but otherwise, this was a genuinely believable, sweet romance… more than that, their character progressions are believable. Geoffrey is a man of his time, a man about town, and it kind of makes sense that he wouldn’t automatically get rid of the mistress he’s supported, Arabella is a woman from the country, who’s lived in the shadow of her great beauty of a sister, it similarly seems totally believable that she only slowly comes into her own.
It’s not perfect, but it is very good.
Comparison to Other Authors/Books:
Like many Signet romances, this is a quietly paced story, where the background (Almack’s, permission to waltz, White’s and the boxing club) are often more than just a little part of the story. If and when the hero and heroine do consummate their relationship, it’s usually not going to take pages and pages. That said, this is probably one of the more sexual Signets I’ve read — the hero maintains his relationship with his mistress throughout a majority of the book, all while continuing to do his “duty” by his wife (where she lies there passively).