Avon Impulse, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-06-244629-9
Historical Romance, 2016
The author’s previous books had been all flavors of catastrophe, mostly because the plots are more often than not fueled by the heroine’s mind-boggling imbecile nature. I don’t know what happened, but The Debutante Is Mine on the other hand feels like it is written by a different person altogether. The fact that the author has a distinctive narrative voice and that voice is unmistakably present here is the only reason I am convinced that I am not hallucinating wonderful things.
But to get to the good things, one has to accept the basic premise, which can be a bit off. Lilah Appleton needs to get married to a titled bloke ASAP. Her late father left a stipulation that unless she finds someone titled to marry before the end of the current Season, she will have to marry her odious, cruel cousin. Apparently her father was determined to ensure that the family remains well-pedigreed even after his death, and what feels off here is why the man wouldn’t force her to marry that cousin right away. Why give her the window of time to get her own husband? The heroine even wonders about this, and there isn’t any decent explanation to be had here, so it’s just one of those things we all have to swallow and go, “Okay, moving on now.” Otherwise, it’d be hard to enjoy the story, as the entire thing hinges on this premise.
Lilah hasn’t been successful in snagging such a husband in the last two Seasons, and now that the clock is ticking, she is worried and desperate. Her BFF, meanwhile, is having a love-hate spat with her ex, and those two strike a bet which would see this BFF trying to turn Lilah into the Original of the Season. Apparently each Season has an anonymous bunch of people who would anoint a lady as an Original, and this Original gets plenty of proposals and attention from titled blokes. Lilah has nothing to lose if she plays along – if she gets to become an Original, great. If she doesn’t, well, it’s not like she has any better plan as everything she tried in the past couldn’t work.
The BFF of the guy whom Lilah’s BFF has a bet with, Jack Marlowe, is the illegitimate son of a duke. His mother was paupered after the death of her husband, and Jack was conceived when she became the duke’s mistress just to put a roof over her head. The relationship seemed like a happy one, but the duke eventually went to marry an heiress to beget an heir, and Jack feels that the duke only acknowledged him as the man’s son because the duke managed to sire only daughters on his wife. Jack is also a self-made man, coming up with all kinds of money-making schemes since he was a kid to support himself. As you can imagine, he doesn’t have a generally high opinion of the aristocracy, although he naturally has some aristocratic BFFs because they were school mates and these school mates are all going to have their own books.
When Lilah dresses all hot and sexy, you will never believe that she suddenly becomes this hot woman. When Jack knows of her desperation, he feels obligated to help her catch the man she thinks will make a good husband. You can imagine what will happen between him and her, I’m sure. Lilah needs a titled husband out of necessity, however, and he is an illegitimate son. Can there be any happy ending for these two?
The actual resolution is obvious, and if you have read any historical romances involving illegitimate sons with love-hate relationships with daddies who only want these men to love them back, you can see the one in this story coming from a mile away. Getting there, however, is worth the time and wait.
Jack is a very nice guy. Despite the initial set-up of him scowling at his father and what not, he turns out to be a perfectly gallant and nice bloke. While he may be nice, he is not boring – it can be tough sometimes for an author to create a nice guy without turning him into a bland kind of vanilla flavor, but here, Jack turns out to be a perfectly fine hero. I like him, and he has an easy charm about him that makes him very easy to adore and root for.
Lilah is a revelation after so many of the author’s imbecile heroines. While she may face a dire circumstance similar to that of many heroines in historical romances, here her emotions and motivations are very well done. They feel real, and hence, Lilah comes off as a very relatable heroine. She displays a sense of awareness that I have never come across in the author’s previous heroines, and I love how the author shows me Lilah’s convincing transformation from a lady without much self-esteem into someone who understands that she deserves all the love she can find in this world. For a long time she is content to let other people push her around for both good or bad, but by the late quarter of the story, she reaches a point where she is determined to take control of her own life. All this is done in a believable manner too, without too many external manipulation or machinations of ‘guardian angel’ type of characters. It’s all her, and I really appreciate that.
The author always has a good way with humor and banter, and here, she balances the lighter emotions with the heavier dramatic moments very well. Really, The Debutante Is Mine is such an unexpectedly solid read despite some head-scratching elements in its premise that I can’t help but to be floored. She needs to keeping doing things like this, because I really need stories like this.