by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2004)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-009214-9
Our American heroine Abigail Mercer thinks she is marrying that wonderful English Viscount, Spencer Law, even if he's marrying her by proxy through his brother Nathaniel. Her acquaintance with Spence has Abby thinking that he's a kind and charming man that will make a wonderful husband for her. Later, after her father has passed away and Nat left for England soon after, she writes to Spence telling him that she and her companion Mrs Graham are coming down to London, and does just that.
Imagine her surprise when Spence knows nothing about this marriage. Worse, Nat has gone missing with her dowry. Penniless and with nowhere to go, she is stuck with Spence. Spence proposes that they let this marriage stand (it will be a marriage in name only, of course) until he finds Nat and clears up this matter with minimum scandal. After all, he has his political aspirations, the reputation of Nat's fiancée Evelina, and his own family's reputation to consider. Also, the marriage will be necessary to stop the rumors going around that Abby is Nat's mistress and Spence is just pretending to be Abby's new protector to save Nat's engagement to Evelina.
I have not even mentioned Nat's actual plans behind his pulling this nonsense as well as Abby's plans to start a medicinal concoction business. Married To The Viscount has a plot that comes off as a little too complicated for its own good. The characters spend the first few pages pretty much explaining the author's plot to each other (and to the reader) in long expositions that feel quite stilted and staged. When the author has to make her characters explain things to each other in a very obvious expositional way to clear the air for the reader, that's when it becomes likely that Ms Jeffries has bitten a bit more plot than she can chew.
On one hand, I like Abby. She is a little too eager to please Spence at times while fearing that she will make him angry (like a timid puppy, come to think of it), but at least she isn't a martyr. She, in fact, is determined to make Spence see her as a worthy wife so that he will change his mind about her. There is no "he's too good for me" nonsense. She's also a heroine that doesn't think twice about making proactive decisions about her life, even if other secondary characters often have to drum the ideas into her head before she acts.
On the other hand, Spence is a less well-drawn character. I wish the author has let Abby's assumptions that they are of a different class in life to be his real reason for not wanting Abby as a wife. But instead, Spence turns out to be an egalitarian and his keeping Abby at arm's length turns out to be for more contrived reasons. Abby befuddles him in very amusing ways and there are times when this very proper and stiff-lipped man thaws wonderfully. Unfortunately, he keeps going on and on about why he can't have Abby for too long - he's still at it on page 233, mind you. He really comes off as a truly tedious and repetitious moaner.
The secondary characters are a lively and entertaining lot, from shrewd society gossips to antagonistic butlers to Evelina who is a character in her own right. They actually make Spence come off as even more underwritten than he already is.
There are many good scenes in this book. One memorable scene that stands out is Spence's realization that he has inadvertently humiliated Abby through his own obtuse behavior in a ballroom and his attempts to apologize to Abby. Abby's subsequent fierce declaration that she will no longer try to change herself to please him is what I always like to hear from a heroine in her situation. The author as usual manages to create great sexual tension between her characters and the foreplay and love scenes are luscious.
There is plenty to like about Married To The Viscount, but the story doesn't come together as coherently as it should have. Factor in the awkward pacing of the main couple's relationship and Nat getting off too lightly for his nonsense, and Married To The Viscount comes off like a jigsaw puzzle missing a few crucial pieces. The premise, the characters' behaviors, and their motivations just don't come together well to present a clear picture of what is going on in the story. From what I have here, it can be a really nice picture, so to speak, but there's really no way I can find out, can I? File this book under Good enough, but I can't help feeling it could have been much, much better.
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