Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29876-1
Historical Romance, 2016
Forbidden Nights with the Viscount is an inaccurate title because the nights in question aren’t forbidden at all. Lady Margaret Roberts is a widow, and her elderly aunt, in fact, is gagging at her to go have a good time with our hero, Giles Hadley. Our hero is actually an heir to a noble title – he’s just too much of a hipster to go all “Ooh, equality for the masses, give everyone a vote, and oh, I’m not going to use my title because… hipster parade, baby!” Of course, he embraces his title and becomes a responsible nobleman at the end of the day, so establishment is still the it at the end of the day.
Yes, that’s basically the plot. This one is set amidst the politics of that time, as Giles is with the Whigs while Maggie has always been on the side of the Tories. Giles is the rebel rouser whose charismatic ways nonetheless earn his the reluctant admiration of the top Tories of the time, include Maggie’s father. Unfortunately, this story paints his political inclination in such a way that one can interpret it as a rebellion against his father rather than due to any actual conviction on his part – which can be a pity as it is hard to find characters in romance novels with believable political beliefs. To be fair, he’s a good man despite where his convictions may spring from, and he does want to be a fair and responsible bloke, so more power to him.
Maggie is the perfect politician’s wife. She hosts his father’s parties, and even better, she has genuine interest in politics and socio-economic issues, hence a lot of her enthusiasm for her guests is real – something that Giles notices almost right away. Also, she is adept at diplomacy and navigating the whole social whirl, so he doesn’t have any problems wanting to marry her. The main issue standing between them is Maggie’s fear of being hurt again, as well as a fear of somehow being pregnant from an affair. You see, her husband, whom she loves dearly, died in a terrible accident, and she still misses him even as her heart wilts at the traumatic memories of the days following his death. Worse, when she allowed herself to fall for some guy who turned out to be an unfaithful cad and opportunist, she only became more determined to protect herself from being hurt again.
So, while Maggie immediately senses and accepts her attraction to him, it will take Giles some effort to make it past her defenses. Interestingly, this story can be quite spicy in that, when these two finally embark on an affair, they do not want to get Maggie pregnant, and due to the unreliable nature of the contraceptive methods of that time, they decide to have fun without going all the way. Therefore, while the spicier moments may not be explicit, these two are doing things that many authors writing non-erotic romances tend to shy away from. Awesome.
The best thing about this one is that both characters are likable sorts who are also good people without trying too hard to be all emo or cynical. Giles isn’t some rake or war hero; he’s just an eldest son buckling under his issues with his father, while at the same time using social issues of his time as a means to institute reforms as well as to avoid facing his inner demons. Maggie is a pretty real heroine, free from weird neurotic tics, and the author allows her to be a goody two-shoes without going all insane martyr on the loose on me. Maggie adores both her parents, she has no weird issues about her looks, and she is conflicted about her desire for Giles in a reasonable manner. What I’m trying to say here is that the author allows her characters to be deeper than the usual archetypes, and they feel more real to me as a result. The chemistry is good, the emotions are intense, and I love the fact that these two get a happy ending in the end.
But there are issues. The author bogs her story down with repetitive exposition, especially in the first third or so of the book, with the main characters constantly rehashing the same key points about their emotional damage or angst that the pacing slows down to a painful snail’s gait.
But more significantly, the conflict between Giles and Maggie only really works if this story takes place in a wonderful world where no means exist to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy. Not that I am advocating abortion; what I’m saying is that, come on, we all know there are ways to get rid of pregnancy even back then, or Maggie, being a lady of independent means and financial security, can always travel abroad for a few months and come back after handing the baby off to somewhere. Maggie’s aunt mentions the possibility of the latter, but both Maggie and Giles act as if there are absolutely nothing at all to do when one is pregnant other than to have that baby. Why? They don’t seem particularly religious, so this aspect of the story feels a little too contrived – something to pander to readers whose sensibilities may be offended by the thought of a woman even realizing that abortion exists – compared to the rest of the story.
Also, given how Maggie’s fears of having a child and being betrayed again are built up to be some kind of psychological complex, it is quite the anticlimax to see her agreeing to marry Giles so easily when the story has to end. All those pages spent on that throwaway “Someone wants to hurt Maggie!” subplot could have been spent on allowing Maggie to flesh out her feelings better.
Still, despite some bumps along the journey, Forbidden Nights with the Viscount is a tall glass of water kind of read. The characters are likable and real, the emotions are believable, and the story can be quite an emotional punch in the gut. Just nice – very nice.