by Julia Quinn, historical (2010)
Piatkus, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-7499-4194-9
Sebastian Grey, an ex-soldier turned society darling with a side career of writing bestselling Gothic stories, believes that Annabel Winslow, a newcomer in town, is the most captivating lady he's ever encountered. She's blunt yet amusing, she exchanges witty repartee with him like a pro, and oh yes, there is a charming air of naïveté around her. She likes him to, and while she's in London, she's determined to take in as much of life as possible with him by her side. They are meant to be... or maybe not, as he soon realizes that Annabel has conveniently neglected to tell him one thing: she'd be wedded off to his not-so-beloved uncle before the end of the Season.
My opinion of Ten Things I Love About You is quite similar to the loosely related previous book by this author, What Happens In London: there is enough emotional punch to balance the humor, but the story itself lacks a tight focus. Like Harry, the hero of the previous book, Sebastian is set up to be a darker hero with problems sleeping stemming from his days of being a sniper for the army, and his charming demeanor hides some trauma that he keeps locked away in his heart. However, this set up never results in any payoff as Sebastian ends up running around Annabel and that aspect of him is never fully explored.
Annabel is a rare heroine of stories set in the ballrooms and balconies of London's privileged folks in that she may seem like a stereotype at first - a country miss being made to wed an unpleasant if rich man for the good of her impoverished family - but Ms Quinn manages to turn this heroine into a more likable and deeper character than that. Annabel's determination to help her family is nicely balanced by her own increasing desperation as she sees the figurative cage door slowly slamming shut in front of her. If she is to become the sacrificial lamb for her family, she doesn't do so willingly. For a long time, she hopes for a way out even as she desperately tries to find some last moments of happiness by enjoying Sebastian's company. Therefore, Annabel's behavior and feelings in this story ring real for me. I feel for her instead of rolling up my eyes and dismissing her as another martyr cliché. It also helps that Annabel is funny, witty even, rather than some humorless too-serious miss bent on martyrdom.
But the plot is quite all over the place, culminating with a bizarre turnabout of a previously unpleasant secondary character in such a manner that the whole thing feels like a kind of deus ex machina to help our main characters find a happy ending. The epilogue is also unusually forgiving on Sebastian's uncle, who is genuinely an unpleasant monster who tried to rape Annabel earlier in this story. One moment, the story is a lighthearted comedic romp despite the darker undercurrents present in Sebastian's hidden angst and Annabel's predicament. Then, during the denouement, it seems like Ms Quinn is opting for a darker and cynical kind of comedy. In the epilogue, the author switches back to the initial lighthearted feel of the story. The whole switch in tone back and forth comes off as too abrupt for my liking.
While I often find Ten Things I Love About You rather uneven in places, I have to admit that the main characters and their romance are pretty adorable to read. There is some credible chemistry between Annabel and Sebastian. The late quarter or so of the story actually packs a pretty heady punch where emotional drama is concerned. All things considered, this is a pretty decent read from start to finish.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
Search for more reviews of works by this author: