Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-92582-1
Historical Romance, 2017
The Debutante’s Daring Proposal is one tough sell: it hinges on your acceptance that the heroine somehow has the right to demand that the hero changes his entire life to accommodate her paranoia and insecurities, and then throw temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way.
Georgiana Wickford’s father died a while back, leaving the family in the predictable, probably obligatory state of near-bankruptcy. Her stepmother begins pushing her and Georgie’s stepsister Sukey to make advantageous marriages upon making their debut in London. For our heroine, however, the idea of meeting new people is so terrifying that she insists that her old friend Edmund, now the Earl of Ashenden, marry her. It’d be a marriage in name only, of course, because she wants to stay in the country to hump trees and molest sheep or whatever else it is that bluestocking tomboys do in their free time.
When Edmund points out reasonably that marrying her means robbing himself of an opportunity to beget an heir, not to mention that he’s getting nothing out of the arrangement should he agrees, her reaction is to basically stomp her foot and call him names. How dare he doesn’t want to drop everything for her! She hates him! Hates him!
Edmund and she were good friends, back when he was a sickly boy and she was the only kid who would befriend him without looking at him funny, but you know how it is: he has to go away, letters go ‘missing’, and each now believes that the other ditched the friendship so, ooh this is personal, this means war. And yet, upon discovering the unhappy circumstances Georgie’s family has fallen into, and realizing that poor Georgie is the way she is because she has been raised via guilt trips and emotional browbeating that must have left her feeling like she’d be a failure for all time, he realizes that he can’t just stand by and let the London folks trample over her. So he decides to mingle in Society and watches over her… until they bump into each other again, and once again, childish insults and temper tantrums fly.
That’s one big reason why this story gets on my nerves: the characters are so immature all the way to the bitter end, especially the heroine, that it is hard not to want to smother the both of them with pillows until blessed silence reigns.
The tragedy here is that I actually understand why Georgie is the way she is: her childhood is not a pleasant one, as she suffers quite a considerable amount of browbeating and emotional manipulation that her self esteem is in tatters. But at the same time, she behaves like a selfish, self-absorbed prat… which won’t be so bad if she wasn’t so freaking stupid at the same time. Yes, she’s the usual “I’d drag this story on and on to the bitter end because I will NEVER believe that he can love me!” sort, when she’s not accusing Edmund of all kinds of nonsense, making dumb and outrageous demands before getting mad that he balks at her being a megalomaniac me-me-me monster, and so forth. Furthermore, she is incapable of making any sensible decision or show any ability to survive on her own without someone to watch over her and make sure that she doesn’t run straight off the nearest cliff. And she never really grows up even by the last page. So yes, I detest the heroine.
And the hero isn’t a gem either. Yes, in many ways, he seems far more adult than Georgie despite only a few years separating them, but each time she is with him, she draws out the petulant child in him. Eventually, he mellows – or maybe he is completely defeated – and decides that he can’t live without her. Why? I have no idea. Maybe he secretly likes it when the woman depends on him entirely to live and breathe another day.
The author also leaves me bewildered when she decides to demonize the very tropes that her main characters end up seeking refuge in and finding happiness with. While Georgie’s stepmother is not going to be considered a nice parent anytime soon, the author tosses in the woman’s determination to make sure that her daughter and her stepdaughter marry well into that woman’s catalogue of sins. Why is this a bad thing? They have no money, and it’s not like Stepmommy here can open a fish shop to make ends meet while Georgie continues to run wild, refuse to act her age, or shoulder any responsibility. And, in the end, Georgie marries an earl, a relationship designed to save her from herself, so the author acts up validating Stepmommy here without probably meaning to. And the fact that Edmund, a privileged and wealthy male, is allowed to sneer and mock Stepmommy for her ambitions… well, that’s unfortunate as it just makes the hero look like a boor.
Aside from the marriage thing, there are also many other “bad” and “pragmatic” aspects of Polite Society of those times given the middle finger by the author. when these very aspects end up being epitomized by Edmund. It is terrible to marry a wealthy, titled man or to enjoy expensive dresses and what not…. but it’s somehow okay to do so if the man is your true love and you are dressing sexy to catch his eye. No, don’t ask me to untangle that logic, this is one of those uniquely romance genre things that rarely make sense but are somehow accepted as okay by the majority of readers.
The Debutante’s Daring Proposal is a story that just leaves me confused. Half the time I am wondering whether the author is even aware of how annoying and immature her characters are, or how the story seems to be vilifying the very things that allow the heroine to be as childish and imbecilic as she is without having to face the consequences of her actions. You can try reading it to see if you can make more sense of it, but there are surely better books out there to spend your time and money on.