Mills & Boon, £5.99, ISBN 978-0-263-93315-4
Historical Romance, 2018
“Mark my words, John Stewart William Trethwell,” his aunt said indignantly. “Take up with that creature and you’ll never see a penny of my money!”
Johnnie leaned down to kiss his aunt’s hand. “There’s nothing for it, then,” he said as he straightened. “You’ll have to leave it to the dog.”
I think I’m a bit in love with him right there and then.
A Most Unsuitable Match is the first book in a series called Sisters of Scandal, but the heroine’s older brother Christopher already had his story as part of the author’s Hadley’s Hellions series. Not that this really matters because this story stands alone very well. Christopher’s story is referenced here in the first chapter, however. This one takes place concurrently with the next book; it’s perfectly fine to read the books in this series out of order (like I did) because of this.
Prudence and Temperance Lattimar are twin sisters who never have any chance at respectability from the moment they are born. You see, their father is obsessed with objects rather than people, and doesn’t care about anything as long as he gets to hoard what he wants. This causes his very bored wife to amuse herself with a string of lovers, and boy, people talk about the family as a result. It’s well known that only the eldest kid, Gregory, is the biological son of Lord Vraux, while Christopher and the two sisters are products of their mother’s affairs with… some blokes, whom nobody has attempted to identify, but who knows, maybe they are nice guys.
The two sisters are finally about to make their debut Season this year. Last year, they had to postpone because Christopher married a most unsuitable lady and while it’s true love and the family is happy for them, other people talked and the family had to lay down once again. This year, just about when they are about to make the trip to the ballrooms, two young men have to get into duel over their mother, and one of these men is in bad shape as a result. Their mother didn’t even encourage these men’s attention – the two men fought one another all on their own volition – but once again, people talk and the family has to lay low some more.
Aunt Gussie, who is all set to chaperone the sisters, announces that perhaps they can go to Bath to weather out the drama. Temper, the more passionate sister, wants to stay behind in London as a show of solidarity to their mother, whom she rightfully points out did nothing wrong in this instance. Pru decides to go to Bath, and this is where the two sisters’ paths diverge to their respective stories. Temper’s story will take place in the next book. This one is Pru’s story.
Pru, like her sister, views their mother with a mix of exasperation and admiration. They actually understand why she did what she did – they aren’t blind to their father’s faults either – but there’s no denying that, even when Mama is trying her best to behave these few years for their sake, her reputation subjects the two sisters to all kinds of cruel gossips and “They must surely be hos like their mothers!” speculations through no fault of theirs. While Temper dreams of defiantly finding a way out of London to get away from all this drama, Pru would like to find a man from a respectable family to settle down with, a man whose pedigree and reputation will help Society overlook hers.
That man is surely not Johnnie Trethwell! He’s the youngest son of a bankrupt nobleman, and has chosen to make his own way by joining the military. Back from a tour of duty in India with a limp to show for it, he doesn’t have a good opinion of Polite Society. His late father didn’t know how to economize and his older brothers have no concept of moderation, so the reputation of the family is no better than Pru’s. When he spots Pru for the first time in Bath, he’s struck by her beauty, and because he is fully aware of how one can be unfairly maligned by Society due to the antics of other family members, he isn’t fazed by the stories of Pru’s mom being the town bicycle. However, Pru may have a more pragmatic choice is a duke’s younger son who is going to be a member of the clergy, so in the end, it may be a matter of following her heart’s desire or choosing the most practical option.
This story isn’t about a love triangle, by the way. The other guy very quickly is revealed to be a shallow, vapid POS that becomes increasingly villainous in a Loony Tunes cartoon manner. This happens to be one of my biggest peeves with this story. By letting me know early on that the POS is, well, a POS, the story robs itself of any potential emotional dilemma that could have added more layers of complexity to the romance.
However, there is so much to love when it comes to the rest of this story. It’s already refreshing to come across a story which has a heroine who doesn’t let her mother’s amorous exploits give her some bizarre complex about sex and love. It’s even better when Pru isn’t a stereotypical frigid miss who bizarrely puts out to the hero two days after meeting him. Our heroine doesn’t hate her mother’s antics; in fact, she recognizes that she too yearn for her life to be a little more exciting, not that she will act on these impulses of course. Indeed, this is a rare story where the heroine expertly navigates the labyrinthine maze of acceptable Polite Society norms imposed on an unmarried young lady like herself, fully aware that one wrong move will ruin her life. Pru never runs off to meet guys alone or climbs out of her window in a boy’s clothes to sneak into gambling dens. Instead, this story is confined mostly to publicly acceptable encounters among Polite Society, with attraction and sexual tension conveyed convincingly via conversations, glances, and gestures.
Pru is an interesting heroine, with nuances and layers that make her far deeper and more realistic than I expected just from reading the blurb on the back cover. She yearns for love and she certainly understands that she’s randy for Johnnie, but at the same time, she keeps a clear head on her shoulders. Life for her isn’t all about falling in love; she knows how precarious her standing is among Polite Society, and she also knows that she doesn’t want to live as a social pariah. Our heroine truly becomes alive, however, when she does fall from grace through no fault of hers, and develops the backbone to keep her head high despite everything. I also love how even then, she has a plan to keep herself busy even in genteel exile from Polite Society.
Johnnie is a little simpler as a character, but he’s good for Pru. He knows what she is going through, because she is he, only she is a hundred times less fortunate in that she is a woman and hence, while some people may give him break, far fewer people will give her any. Unlike Pru, he doesn’t want to settle down, so he just wants to be kind and to enjoy being in the presence of such a spectacularly beautiful lady for a little while. He will fall in love with her, of course, but it will take a while for him to admit that. This guy is charming and nice, and I love how he comes to Pru’s assistance without hesitation when she is subjected to the petty cruelties of the supposedly genteel folks in Bath.
A Most Unsuitable Match is such a misleading title in that I can’t fathom in any way how Johnnie and Pru aren’t the perfect match. The author has presented a romance that has both emotional drama and humor in equal doses, and the main characters are so good together as well as on their own. I also love how nobody in this story, aside from the bad guys, fits neatly into envelopes. Many secondary characters feel like well-rounded types. Sure, the last quarter or so of the story plays out like a tired villains-gonna-villain thing, but the rest of the story makes up for it. Oh, just go read this thing.