Friday, November 30, 2012

Her Counterfeit Husband by Ruth Ann Nordin (4.5 stars, historical)





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After only a few novels, Ruth Ann Nordin has successfully won me over as a fan. Her stories are not quite perfect: there is a certain simplicity to her writing, and many of her historicals seem to feature a suspiciously anachronistic phrase or two. But there also tends to be an inherent goodness to her protagonists, a set of admirable traits that leads to an authentic and pleasantly sweet relationship. Such is the case in Nordin's Her Counterfeit Husband, with a kindhearted heroine trying to make the best of a bad situation and a hero a bit too honorable for his own good. Excellent characterizations, a straightforward storyline, and meaningful interactions blend to form a tender romance.

The heroine married a duke at the young age of eighteen, impressed by his title and hopeful that their affection would deepen over time to love. Now, six years later, her primary feeling is overwhelming relief that her husband is deathly ill. He was an unfaithful, unkind, and abusive man, a spouse who drove the heroine to attempt suicide on one occasion. Her situation remains dire because the duke's brother has plans for inheriting the dukedom - plans that involve the heroine in his bed and being just as cruel as his brother. So, as  soon as the duke dies, the heroine - and her good friend, the butler - carry through a plan of disposing the body and pretending the man is still alive. The answer to their unspoken prayers comes in the form of a man almost beaten to death... who bears an impossibly close resemblance to the newly deceased duke. They originally plan to convince him to play the role, at least until the heroine can escape to somewhere else. However, when they find out the man has amnesia it is decided that the simplest thing is to have the man believe he is the real duke. The hero is quickly shown to be a gentle and compassionate guy, someone who is always appreciative of life's blessings. He is continually astonished at the beauty of the woman who is his "wife," and - when he hears some of the stories of who he use to "be" - the hero vows to make the most of this second chance. His actions serve to emphasize these characteristics, such as the consideration he frequently shows to the heroine and his desire to have a second marriage simply so that he can have a memory of it. The heroine is a caring woman, and continues to be distraught about the lies she is propagating - particularly as she falls hopelessly in love with the hero. She eventually stops resisting her feelings, and gradually learns how to experience life within a marriage of happiness. The final conflicts are largely external. They are also rather dramatic, but I do commend Nordin on having the protagonists' actions accurately reflect their personalities. Barriers are eventually resolved, and the ending was happy in a fairly triumphant fashion.

A certain suspension of belief is needed to fully delve into the plot of Ruth Ann Nordin's Her Counterfeit Husband, and there were a few other minor issues I had with the story as well. Nonetheless, Nordin succeeds at creating an engaging read with endearing characters and a poignant relationship. It is a book I highly recommend to anyone willing to have a bit of flexibility with their historical romances.

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