Courtney Milan, $4.99
Historical Romance, 2015
Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford, once had a thing with Judith Worth, but it can be hard to have a happy relationship when his uncovering of evidence is instrumental in sending Judith’s father to the gallows and her brother to a stint in Australia… although Anthony is probably dead since his ship sank at sea. Oops, I took a peek at the author’s website and I am now spoiled: Anthony is not dead, he’s getting his own book probably in 2025. As if any sequel-worthy dude ever stays dead in romance novels, really.
Christian spends the following years dreaming of Anthony – no, not in that way; it’s in a sad and guilty way. Since Christian seems like a bloke with what seems like Asperger syndrome, he can’t rest until he gets hold of Anthony’s diaries. I assume he’d hug each volume and rock himself to sleep every night? Judith, understandably, ignores his request until she needs a favor from him. You see, since the big men in the family died or vanished, she has been taking care of everyone else. Are they grateful? No. The oldest sister after Judith, Camillla, left home after a spat with Judith, and when Judith breaks down and writes to Camilla to come back, she gets no response. Finally, after years have passed, Judith sends Camilla a considerable amount of money for Camilla’s coming out, and still no news. Now she wonders what happened to her sister and the money, and she needs a man to glower and scowl at the solicitor to tell her where Camilla is. Ergo, the Marquess of Aspie, er, Ashford.
Once a Marquess is a well-written book of moments. The main characters are so besieged by angst and issues that I have a hard time seeing their romance as anything more than some kind of “I need some sex to make me feel less depressed!” succor. Christian and Judith have some lovely interior monologues about feelings and such, but their scenes together tend to be heavily focused on their hurt, predicament, and more. I don’t know how these two would function together in happier times, because they are so intent on solving their woes.
Now, it is never mentioned even in the afterword whether Christian has any form of Asperger syndrome, so I can be wrong, but the author’s ability to lure me into Christian’s head using fragmented or repetitive thought patterns is really remarkable. Exhausting too, I must say, as the guy can get really worked up over what ordinary people would consider trivial.
However, Christian makes me cringe really hard each time he opens his mouth. The author and various secondary characters claim that Christian likes to joke, and he even tells me that he jokes as a defense mechanism to keep the world at bay. I get that, but oh my goodness, those jokes are so corny or awkward, it’s probably a good thing that this guy is born into privilege or he’d be forcibly drafted to clown school from young or something. After a while, I wish someone would gag Christian and make him use sign language to communicate.
Judith’s sin here is pride. She appoints herself the boss, but she has a hard time admitting that she is wrong or letting go. I’m not surprised that her siblings resent her at times – they are brats in their teens, so of course they will resent her – she can patronize and smother them to the point that they probably can’t stand being in her company for long.
So, we have a guy who stubbornly insists that he is in the right for sending Judith’s father and brother to face accusations of treason, while at the same time is slowly being consumed inside by guilt. Is it love, or just a way for him to make up for his perceived sins, when he decides that he has fallen in love with Judith again? Likewise, I’m not sure whether Judith is in love with Christian as much as being with him is her way of making peace with her many inner demons. Once they have found themselves in a better place, will there be enough left for them to love one another? I do wonder.
And, oh my goodness, Judith’s brat siblings! I really feel sorry for her when the whole thing unravels and all the truth comes out. One brat hides the fact that they have money, because he doesn’t want to go back to school. Another brat is an ungrateful wretch who needs a smack in the head. And then we have Anthony, who runs off to do his thing while leaving Judith to toil and suffer on her own under the assumption that he is dead. I can’t recall whether I have recently come across any siblings who are this selfish and awful. I don’t think Judith’s helicopter-parenting style of caring for her siblings is healthy, but the things they put her though, oh my god, I’d have cheerfully smothered them all with a pillow on her behalf. And they are all getting books of their own? Lovely, I can’t wait. It also doesn’t help that these brats use big words and speak like they are actually pretentious forty-year old midgets. Reading this book reminds me of why brats terrify me – I try not to spend too much time around them if I can help it.
Once Upon a Marquess isn’t necessarily bad book, but it is one that I have a hard time warming up to. I appreciate the psychology of the characters, but I actually find the romance the least interesting and convincing aspect of the story. Oh, and I close the book feeling that the heroine has been really shortchanged by the gene pool lottery when she got stuck with her siblings. Luckily, Christian is an upgrade because he’d still need a mother in his life and bed, but not to the soul-sucking extent that her siblings put her through. So I guess that counts as a happy ending?