Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Lady Priscilla's Shameful Secret by Christine Merrill (4 stars, historical)

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Thoughts After Reading:
Christine Merrill's Lady Priscilla's Shameful Secret turned out to be a deceptively good read. Possibly due to the fact I hadn't read any of the prequels to the novel, I had a hard time getting a good grasp of the story... at first. As I progressed through the book, however, I uncovered a love story with considerable depth and more than a little sweetness hidden behind the slightly awkward writing. I rather liked the main characters as well, and found it enjoyable to watch as they made their way towards a HEA.

Of the two protagonists, I'd have to say I was more impressed with the hero of Lady Priscilla's Shameful Secret. He had planned to become a horse trader until recently, when he unexpectedly inherited the title of a duke. The author makes full use of this history, with several spins on the old the-marriage-market-is-like-a-horse-sale joke. He plans on finding a wife soon, someone who would fit the role but also someone he can get along with. The hero isn't particularly a rake, at least not in the conventional sense. In fact, at one point the heroine describes him as: "his manners were rather odd, as were his looks." He's a brawny man, and - due to her history - this aspect disturbs the heroine at first. At the initial meeting of the hero and heroine, I had a hard time understanding why she intrigued him so much - she tries her best to act rude and is truly disinterested. I think I get it, though: the hero is tired of simpering misses who want nothing more from him than his newly acquired title. The heroine not only dislikes him despite his title, she dislikes him because of it - her father only cares that she marries a highly-titled man. He decides to pursue her to find out if they would make a good match, and his heart becomes a bit more involved with every encounter. It also doesn't hurt that she's one of the more attractive women he knows.

Which brings us to the heroine's backstory. From what I was able to gather, she use to be very much a society miss - one that would flirt easily and steal meaningless kisses on the balcony. She also grew up with a very oppressive and unloving father. Not too long before the book opens, she decided to elope with her dancing instructor. She doesn't plan on going through with the marriage, but hopes that the elopement will ruin her in her father's eyes and let her and her sister live as spinsters out in the country. On the journey, the dancing instructor demands his marital rights early. The heroine doesn't have a whole lot of ability to resist, and decides she might as well as see what this "ruining" business is all about. But the instructor doesn't treat the her very well, resulting in the heroine developing a through disgust of sex. When her family eventually rescues her, she finds out her sister had found love in the few days the heroine was gone. So the heroine goes back to living an unhappy life with her father and a new stepmother, only a few years older than she is, with the scandal (and her loss of virginity) hanging over her head.

The love story that develops from the hero courting the heroine is quite well done. In essence, the hero slowly seduces the heroine on both a physical and emotional front, eventually proving that she doesn't need to be afraid of intimacy. He shows her a side of romance previously unknown to her - soft words, touches, and elaborate gestures that leads to deeper feelings every time the couple interacts. The romantic conflict and resolution that results were also pretty good, although they definitely tended towards being overly dramatic. Additionally, I wasn't always sure why the characters acted the way they did.

As a whole, Christine Merrill's Lady Priscilla's Shameful Secret  never completely impressed me - there were just too many aspects of the novel I found to be a bit off-beat. But the romance that unfolds is surprisingly solid, and for that reason alone it's going on my list of books to reread in the future.

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