Review of audiobook version of a terrific, humorous, “marriage of convenience” Regency romance with a surprise twist
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: December 29, 2009
Publisher: Brilliance Audio; Unabridged edition
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Reginald (Reggie) Mason, age 25, is the much loved and much indulged, only child of a fabulously wealthy coal merchant, Reginald Mason, Senior. Reggie has been raised by his social-climbing father to be a refined gentleman, and it has been his father’s fondest hope from the moment of his son’s birth that handsome, well-spoken, and charismatic Reggie would eventually marry into the aristocracy. Unfortunately for Mr. Mason’s ambitions, though prior to a year ago Reggie had always been an obedient and loyal son, since that time he has transformed into a profligate fop and gambler. Reggie has squandered enormous sums of his father’s fortune on an extravagant, dandified wardrobe, multiple, fancy carriages, each driven by a separate team of very fine horses, and endlessly sustaining heavy losses in low-life gaming hells.
At the start of the story, Mr. Mason is berating Reggie for his misdeeds. He demands that Reggie immediately cease and desist from sowing wild oats and settle down with an aristocratic young woman of Mr. Mason’s choosing. Seemingly in the spirit exculpating himself via utilizing what is known in our era as, “whataboutism,” Reggie states that Annabelle Ashton has gotten into far worse trouble than he has. Annabelle is the exquisitely beautiful, 22-year-old daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a bitter enemy of Mr. Mason whose property abuts the Masons’ land. Annabelle was on the verge of a brilliant match to an enormously wealthy, but very homely marquis when she ruined her reputation beyond recall by a botched elopement with her father’s handsome, young coachman. Reggie declares to his father in a sneering tone, similar to the one his father always uses when discussing the earl and his family, that Annabelle’s situation is now so hopeless, the earl won’t be able to marry her off to anyone. And even worse for the earl, he is currently so dead broke, now that the rich marquis won’t be around to bail him out, the earl is facing the disgrace of utter financial ruin.
Rather than rejoicing in his enemy’s downfall, Mr. Mason immediately and gleefully decides that the opportunity of a lifetime has arrived. He will kill two birds with one stone. First, he will be able to purchase for his son an aristocratic bride, whose presence by his side will allow Reggie to enter the highest echelons of British society. Second, by presenting the proud earl with an irresistible offer, he will humble the man who has treated Mr. Mason and his family like dirt for the past 30 years. It will gall the earl no end to receive financial assistance from Mr. Mason’s coal-based fortune, which the earl has always derided as shameful.
With no other options in sight, the desperate earl resentfully accepts Mr. Mason’s offer of his son in marriage, and both fathers order their wayward offspring to marry each other, adding that the two of them will only be getting what they deserve if this marriage of convenience makes them miserable. Both Reggie and Annabelle at first adamantly claim they absolutely will not go through with the marriage, but they are soon convinced to capitulate by their fathers’ threatened punishments for non-compliance. Annabelle would be forced to work as a lowly chamber maid at her father’s most distant and isolated property, and Reggie would be reduced to poverty when his father disinherits him.
This is a terrific, “marriage of convenience” plot with a comic twist that is not completely revealed until the very end of the book. Reggie and Annabelle are both extremely sympathetic characters, and they make a terrific couple. I greatly enjoyed the feuding fathers and the loving mothers as well.
As has been common in adult romance novels since the 1980’s, this story is told in the alternating points of view of Reggie and Annabelle, which is a convention I myself greatly appreciate, because it allows the reader to thoroughly get to know the hero as well as the heroine.
There is no drunkenness in this book, no profanity, and the sole sex scene is discretely written with both sensuality and tenderness.
This story heavily employs flashbacks, which in less skilled hands than the talented Ms. Balogh, tends to stall the forward flow of a novel. In this case, these particular flashbacks are so essential to slowly unfolding the final plot twist of the novel, and they are so well written and entertaining, that I did not experience anything but sheer pleasure when reading them.
As historical novels go, this one is relatively short, only around 60,000 words. This is the standard length of a classic Regency romance novel, compared to an average of 90-110,000 words for a full-length, Regency historical romance novel. The reason the author is able to successfully keep this novel short is because it has only one main plot, the romance. In contrast to full-length Regency historical romance novels, this book lacks a subplot of either a mystery, action-adventure, or the melodramatic redemption of a “dark and dangerous” and/or “wounded” hero. All of these types of subplots have been standard fare for decades in historical romances of longer length. With all the focus on the romance in this shorter novel, the story moves very quickly, and there is more than enough quirkiness in the romance plot itself to provide a fabulously fun ride toward a clever, humorous, and emotionally satisfying HEA.
I’ve experienced this story in audiobook format twice now, and I actually enjoyed it even more the second time around when I knew ahead of time what the major plot twist is. That “spoiler” knowledge allowed me to appreciate the cunning ways that the author hints at the surprise throughout the book while, at the same time, deftly throwing up red herrings that prevent readers from figuring out the punchline too soon.
The narrator of this audiobook is Anne Flosnik, who has also narrated many of Jayne Ann Krentz AKA Amanda Quick’s historical romances. Flosnik does a great job with the voices of women of all ages, children’s voices, and many different ethnic and regional accents. However, she has a limited range for men’s voices. Her enunciation is clear and easy to understand but, fortunately, is not so pedantically precise as to become a bit irritating, as is the case with Kate Reading, who narrates most of Loretta Chase’s historical romance novels.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5