Thoughts After Reading:
It seems to me that the romantic pairing of a young lady and her brother's friend has just about been done to death. The heroine invariably has had a secret infatuation for at least a decade, the hero's perspective shifts completely over a small time frame, and the resulting transition to a real relationship often comes out unconvincingly. Keeping those thoughts in mind, Candace Camp's upcoming novel The Marrying Season caught my interest by having a distinctive twist on the well worn formula. Neither the hero nor the heroine are suffering from an abundance of unrequited love, although the actions of both characters suggest they have some level of unconscious feelings for each other. It is only when the heroine's reputation is damaged that the hero proposes out of a desire to protect her with his name. What follows is a marriage-of-convenience plot that - while not wholly satisfying - includes stretches of affectionate romance interspersed between the predictable bouts of misunderstandings and general unhappiness. The compelling writing is clearly the result of a seasoned author, and the character of the heroine was so engaging that I became desperately involved in wanting her to achieve her happy ending.
The heroine of The Marrying Season struggles quite a bit throughout the novel, and I found it impossible not to have a great deal of empathy for her. To begin with: she had a rather isolated existence growing up, and the only real role model she has in her life is her very traditional grandmother. All of this has resulted in her having mediocre social skills. She hides behind an icy facade of politeness, and - when uncertain - follows her grandmother's lead in doing all that is proper. The grandmother matches the heroine with a extremely dull and haughty fiancee. The heroine is not entirely comfortable with the arrangement, but knows it is the acceptable step to take and has little hope for finding a love match. The couple are nearing their wedding date as the storyline starts off. When the heroine is found unchaperoned in the presence of an overzealous admirer, the heroine's fiancee instantly cries off. The heroine's reputation is left in tatters. The hero - a family friend who is very protective of the heroine - quickly offers her marriage as a solution to her problems. The hero is one of the few people the heroine is familiar with enough to be her true self. He is presented as a very charming and easygoing man, someone who is always being pursued by the ladies despite not being an actual rake. The hero and heroine have a bickering relationship that resembles that of two siblings, and a similar level of affection for each other. The heroine is extremely torn about the hero's offer: she does not wish to bring scandal upon her family name, and yet is afraid that the hero is acting as a martyr. She reluctantly accepts the proposal, and a honeymoon period follows - both literally and figuratively. The hero seduces his wife into delights of the marriage bed with copious amounts of affection, and they settle into an enjoyable relationship with each other that is merely an extension of the bond they already had. But all honeymoons must come to an end, and contention sets in as the main characters have some serious arguments. The heroine is dismayed to believe the hero has been acting out of duty towards her, and the wedge that is driven between them causes both characters significant grief. I found myself being annoyed repeatedly by the hero's actions. He would become bitter at times towards the heroine for thinking him frivolous and carefree, even though that is exactly the side of his personality he shows the world. He also appears to have some resentment towards the heroine for thinking herself to be socially above him, when there is absolutely no evidence to support these beliefs. The hero is hopeless at anticipating the heroine's many fears and turbulent feelings resulting from their spats. His "solution" to any of their problems is physical intimacy, which only tends to cause further problems. Much of the second half of the book alternates between these romantic conflicts and a mystery plot, and the hero and heroine try to discover who set up the heroine to be compromised in the first place.
To my disappointment, Candace Camp's The Marrying Season shared some of the same flaws commonly found in romance novels. As with other friends-to-lovers plots, the transition from being platonic companions to romantic lovers was murky at best. As with other marriage-of-convenience stories, inane misunderstandings and hurt feelings are used to drag out the conflict endlessly until everything can be finally tied up at the happily-ever-after. Still, I found it to be an enjoyable novel overall. The writing was well-done, the heroine shone as a character that the reader can root for, and there were scenes scattered across the storyline where the protagonists' relationship felt particularly sweet and authentic. I cannot give Camp's The Marrying Season an overwhelming recommendation, but I do think it's a historical romance worth checking out.
*Note: I received a free review copy of this novel. This, of course, did not affect my opinion.