Never one to pass up a good spinster-and-rake storyline, I have been eagerly anticipating Theresa Romain's Season for Surrender ever since I read the novel's blurb a few months back. However, my anticipation transitioned to slight confusion as I read the varied reviews for the recently published book. One group of reviewers seemed to indicate that it was the best thing since sliced bread, while another group of reviewers painted a more lackluster picture of the novel. It turns out both sets of reviewers had valid points. There are definitely positive aspects of Season for Surrender: it contains witty humor, fun supporting characters, and multifaceted protagonists that undergo considerable character development. With that being said, I also understood where the negative reviews were coming from. I agree with the opinion that the storyline meanders for the majority of the book - a side effect of indecisive conflicts and characters who seem adverse to problem-solving (until the final chapters). There were quite a few other, more minor elements that bothered me as well. The overall result wasn't a bad read per se, but it wasn't a particularly good one either.
At twenty-one, the heroine barely fits the description of "spinster". It's true that she is initially a bit of a shy bluestocking, but she uses the country party as a chance to step out of her shell... and does so almost immediately with little difficulty. She is strongly attracted to the hero, and her observant nature allows her to recognize the facade the hero shows to the world. The hero, meanwhile, is a bit of a puzzle. He is an indolent rake with a greatly exaggerated reputation who isn't altogether happy with his current lifestyle. It seems that - having grown up as an orphan - he has always craved being popular, and has allowed his life to go into a rut over the years of always appeasing society... a fact that becomes all the more obvious to him as he spends more time with the heroine. Oh, and - like the heroine - he secretly enjoys reading. So the couple have numerous chats in the library, trade smoldering looks, and play houseparty games along with the other guests that seem like they would skirt the edge of Regency propriety. On the one hand, the hero seemed like an honorable sort of chap: frequently trying to protect the heroine's reputation, and - in the case of the eventual love scenes - not doing anything that would be "irrevocable" when he isn't prepared to offer marriage. On the other hand, the strength of his character really came into question as the book progressed. He seemed to have this "woe is me" mentality, almost always bowing to his cousin's threats instead of sticking up for himself or the heroine. The hero's "solution" to the major conflict was ridiculous on so many levels. It is only in the final chapters that he grows the smallest bit of a backbone, and only because the heroine sets things in motion first. The other main conflict largely consisted of the protagonists being perpetually unsure of the other's feelings, what with both characters bouncing from intimate encounters to pretending they are indifferent to each other. The final resolution was nice, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Season for Surrender appears to be only the second novel Theresa Romain has written, and - frankly - I'm not surprised. The novel feels very much like a middle-of-the-road debut. Certain elements were well done: the intelligent humor was excellent, the dialogue was entertaining yet meaningful, and Romain did a good job of giving the protagonists a moderate depth of character. Other elements, however, were rather lacking: I felt the the plot pacing, almost every conflict, and many of the decisions (or lack thereof) by the hero significantly detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. In short, Season for Surrender demonstrates Romain's potential as an author... but it is not a novel I would recommend.