Beth reminded everyone that Laura Kinsale’s Lessons in French has been released to the wild, even though the street date has not yet arrived. Guess it’s not a strict lay down date? I dunno. I’ll pick up a copy.
My SBD: Courtney Milan’s Proof
of by Seduction
It’s her debut release. I think. She had a novella in an anthology with Mary Balogh for the holidays. Which is the debut? Does the novella count or does the full length book count? I dunno.
Anyway, here’s the blurb from the back:
A gifted fortune-teller from a humble background, Jenny can make even the most sophisticated skeptic believe her predictions simply by batting her smoky eyelashes. Until she meets her match in Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, a sworn bachelor and scientis.
He just didn’t know it yet
Broodingly handsome, Gareth is scandalized to discover his cousin has fallen under the spell of "Madame Esmeralda," and vows to prove Jenny a fraud. But his unexpected attraction to the fiery enchantress deifies logic. Jenny disrupts every facet of Gareth’s calculated plan — until he can’t decide whether to seduce her or ruin her. Now, as they engage in a passionate battle of wills, two lonely souls must choose between everything they know . . . and the boundless possibilities of love.
First: smoky eyelashes? If they are on fire, she should put the fire out? Who wrote this blurb?
So, Jenny (as Madame Esmeralda) got to know a depressed maybe bipolar young man and more or less talked him into living. His cousin, the Marquess of Blakely, is a scientist who is determined to cut Ned’s association with the petty con artist. Except he’s attracted to her — shocking, since he’s a sworn bachelor and basically has a stone for a heart. (Wasn’t "sworn bachelor" code for gay in Victorian and Edwardian days?) Except he decides to have sex with her in addition to driving her out of Ned’s life. Jenny’s attracted to the Marquess as well, but is aware that it can’t go anywhere.
The heroine was a fraud, or was presented as such. Eh, I found that characterization to be odd. Seriously, a psychic? Maybe it’s my modern sensibility (aka profound cynicism), but I find it hard to believe that anyone really took her predictions seriously. And while con artist heroines or heroes are a hard sell for me, Milan did a good job selling Jenny — there were relatively few respectable careers for women at the time, and she was making do.
Milan did a really good job building Gareth as frozen, cold and heartless. Too good, in fact. He spent too long being an ass to Jenny and to everyone else, incapable of communicating like a normal human being. His reasons for being so frozen just…didn’t work for me. People get hurt every day without turning into automatons. And his constant harping on the fact that Jenny was not his equal really bothered me. It’s something I struggle with in historicals generally, the idea that by an accident of birth one human being is deserving of respect while another is not. And his lack of recognition of her humanity, her right to dignity and respect, his plan to fuck her and then discard her made his holier-than-thou attitude hard to take.
It probably isn’t a huge spoiler to say that the two marry and have an HEA. But I find the HEA to be not all that convincing. After telling Jenny that she isn’t his equal, he changes his mind — she’s too good for him and he must marry her, despite the fact that he had determined not to marry and have an heir because the burden of the marquessate was too much to impose on anyone he might love. So they marry because she is his equal and her birth (or lack) doesn’t matter. Except in the epilogue, her origins do matter to the extent that he feels the need to insult a woman of perhaps better birth or background in order to intimidate the ton and leave her history in the murky past. Whatever.
I appreciated the writing, which was lovely. And the pacing, which was even and not at all clunky. I even enjoyed the elephant.* I just didn’t care about the MCs all that much. Was much more interested in Ned, whose book is due out later this year.
*As I read the elephant scene, all I could think of was Bujold’s Simon Ilyan and his tale of procuring an elephant as a bribe for an ambassador in Memory.