Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-92563-0
Historical Romance, 2017
After her husband died in a duel over her honor, Lady Sara Herriard opted for a change of scenery. Tired of how the men of her world often made decisions about a woman’s virtue and honor without taking into consideration the woman’s feelings and thoughts on the matter, she moved to Sandbay, Dorset, to become just another ordinary lady. Of course, the people there all know of her real identity, but they
humor her because she has money like her well enough to help keep her identity on the down low. Today, she is the owner of Aphrodite’s Seashell, a shop selling all kinds of things from paints to fossils to hobbyists that come down from London.
When Surrender to the Marquess opens, she has an interesting customer. Oh, he claims to be a mere mister, but Sara can spot the carriage and mannerism of a man born into nobility. Lucian Avery claims to be searching for diversions to keep his sister from falling into melancholy. She has no problems helping Marguerite slowly shake off her doldrums, and in the meantime, she manages to piece together that Lucian is actually the Marquess of Cannock. I like this part of the story, by the way – the author has Sara noticing how Lucian introduces her to his sister before catching himself, for example, and Sara correctly deduces that this means that Lucian and his sister outrank her. A quick trip to the library to flick through the Peerage soon confirms her suspicions. All these cute little things make the social norms and customs of that time come really alive, and Sara also comes off as that rare intelligent woman who is a far cry from the gulping, perpetually confused ingénues out there.
I am hoping for an interesting romance story, as there is a smart heroine here who feels and thinks like a real person while still coming off like a woman of her time, but for reasons only the author will know, the story soon shifts from relationship development to Sara trying to help Lucian mend his relationship with his sister, as well as to help Marguerite find a happy ending with a man Lucian considers unsuitable for the poor girl. The story becomes more of a typical “heroine meddles and worms her way into the hero’s heart” thing, and I’m disappointed that the story never fully capitalizes on what an interesting heroine it has.
Worse, in the late third of the story, the author shifts the goalposts of Sara’s motivations. Early on, the story seems to have a feminist overtone, as Sara wishes that the men in her circles would respect women enough to allow these women to make decisions and face the consequences of these decisions without these men barging in and making arrogant assumptions on their behalf. However, late in the story, Sara begins blaming herself for her husband’s duel.
This is a way for the author to pull a “Oh, I’m not worthy of the marquess’s love!” conflict to pad the pages a bit more, but it completely undermines the girl power message leading up to that point. It also makes a case that the hero and the other men in her life are right to want to step in and make high-handed decisions on her behalf, because she herself can’t deal with what she believes to be the consequences of her actions. In just a space of a few chapters, the author does a great job in thoroughly sabotaging her story for sake of introducing tired-ass boring conflicts, and I hope she’s happy, because I’m not.
Oh well. Surrender to the Marquess is a well-written and easy to read story, and I do like the heroine for the most part. But it seems like a confused book too, unsure of what it really wants to say or do, and I have very mixed feelings about it as a result.