Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-188569-3
Historical Romance, 2012
Julian Spenser, Marquess Dryden, first encounters Phoebe Vale when he visits the Pennyroyal Green academy for girls to look into the possibility of sending his naughty niece there. He meets her while he stops by the local emporium with his friend and his friend wagers that Dryden could still a kiss from the prim and proper schoolteacher. He doesn’t accept the bet, but Phoebe overhears them, so it should have been awkward when he reaches the academy and she has to give him a tour in the headmistress’s absence. Instead, they have a talk that ends up leaving them feel rather… intrigued about one another.
They meet again when Phoebe accepts a former student’s invitation to be her companion for the next few weeks. Lisbeth Redmond is beautiful, rich, and meant for refined things… such as Dryden, perhaps. For, he’s courting her as she has what he wants. Or rather, he wants a piece of land that happens to come as part of her dowry. With Phoebe in the scene, though, Dryden’s well-ordered plan may not go as expected.
The only link How the Marquess Was Won has to the other Pennyroyal Green books is that this story features the Redmonds as secondary characters and the author continues the whole Lyon and Olivia drama a little bit more here. You know, I wonder whether the author is killing that inevitable book with Lyon and Olivia by prolonging the series, as by the time that book comes out, it is a likely possibility that that book would not be able to match the expectation of readers who have come to anticipate and expect so much by that point. Just ask Suzanne Brockmann.
Back to this story, it’s all about the musical merry-go-round without any distraction from spies, pirates, and stuff. Julian is also a nice change of pace in that, after so many dashing rakes that do whatever they want without regard to expectations and reputation, here’s Julian who spent most of his life cleaning up the mess made by his irresponsible father. He takes great pains to be a proper gentleman – no giving in to wild impulses and reckless decisions for him, oh no. Of course, that will change when it comes to Phoebe.
Phoebe is a bit of a subversion from the usual schoolteacher stereotype too. She has dreams, and this is one heroine that isn’t afraid to seize an opportunity to get closer to those dreams. Right now, she finds herself attracted to Dryden. It’s crazy, what with her occupying that thankless strata in society between the house staff and more respectable people, but she can’t be that invisible wallflower even if she wants to. Normally, in the hands of another author, this might result in Phoebe being a reckless heroine that makes foolish choices, but Ms Long manages to develop Phoebe in such a way that I can actually relate to her and understand why she does what she does here.
Julian undergoes the standard “stiff-lipped hero thaws and has his defenses break down by love” character arc here, but the author with her usual deceptively easy finesse turns the whole thing into a breathtakingly romantic tableau. Okay, I can’t resist a hero who gets floored as hard as Julian here, but the author only makes it so much more fun to go along and enjoy Julian’s fall from his own pedestal. He and Phoebe have some very sweet and even poignant scenes where they just talk and discover things about one another that make them fall in love even more, and these scenes are served up with just the right amount of humor and heartfelt earnestness. I simply adore the love story here.
Also, there is the author’s ability to turn any mundane scene into one humming with sexual tension, and there are a few such scenes here that make my toes curl despite the fact that everyone in that scene has his or her clothes on.
I also find myself appreciating Lisbeth: she’s far more intelligent than most people give her credit for, and she’s also ruthless. Once she realizes that Phoebe has her hooks on Julian, she becomes enjoyably cruel. Call me contrary, but I would actually love to see Lisbeth with her own story, provided that she remains what she is and isn’t forced to repent and turn into a more conventional dingbat heroine at the start of that story.
How the Marquess Was Won is, at the end of the day, an entertaining story that delivers the right amount of humor and love to make it just too adorable for words.