Friend or Lover?
Lady Mary Haviland knew better than to think she ever would wed. No gentleman would woo a woman as long on the shelf or as plain as she was. In fact, her lack of the usual enticements made it easy for her to develop uncomplicated friendships, even with the most dangerous of rakes.
Mary could laugh, then, at the rumors about her and the Marquess of Pemerton. Why would the most irresistible lord in London want her as anything more than a friend? What could she offer him that a legion of beauties did not already freely give this legendary rake? How could anyone guess his hold on her heart, when she kept her feelings hidden so well? But all her questions faded before the greatest question of all -- when he asked her to be his bride. Now Mary faced the peril of the impossible dream coming terrifyingly true ...
I quite like the basic plot of this book, where the hero offers for the heroine because of her fortune, (without telling her that he is after her money, of course). But getting to know her he wants her for herself and not for the money. And what will the heroine do when she finds out the truth? Because they always do find out :) This is a not very common theme in Regencies. The fortune hunter role is usually reserved for a rival for the heroine’s affections and/or the villain. Alternatively the heroine meets and falls in love with a fortune hunter in her naïve youth, finds out it was her fortune the suitor was after, and guards her heart against men ever since; but the hero will change her mind of course. The few books I have read with fortune hunter as the hero are usually good ones (Diane Farr’s The Fortune Hunter comes to mind). The ‘Fortune Hunter Hero’ scenario has lots of potential for emotional angst and a moving romance because the heroine will feel betrayed and the hero has to win her over again and gain her trust. If used properly and skilfully that is. In this case, I can give Miss Hern full marks for good intentions but she did not manage to carry them through effectively.
Jack Raeburn, the Marquess of Pemerton, needs a wealthy bride to restore his debt-ridden estates. Of course the bad condition of the estates is not his fault but his father’s and brother’s. It seems his dire financial situation is not known.
Lady Mary Haviland, a spinster of 29 years, has not had an easy life with her father. He treated Mary very badly, always telling her she is ugly, and blaming her for her mother’s death in childbirth. Finally he dies, and Mary is free to enjoy her life, having inherited a great fortune from her mother. Mary has an outgoing and sunny personality and she is the sensible, independent, practical, strong heroine I would adore. I say ‘would’, because I did not like the fact tat she considered herself ugly (when she was not), and pretends to very much enjoy her single/spinster life. This is a sham because in reality, her dream would be to get married but since no one would want her, she is resigned to her single state and just puts on a brave and happy face about it. So she is in fact a victim heroine, masquerading as a strong heroine. I actually prefer the real thing :)
Lady Mary and Pemerton become friends and Mary volunteers to help him find a bride, only she does not know that above all his ideal bride needs to be rich. They grow to like each other and when Pemerton discovers that Lady Mary is a heiress herself he proposes. After some initial misgivings, thinking she not young or beautiful enough for the role, Lady Mary agrees. The engaged couple go to visit Pemerton’s family home, Pemworth.
Lady Mary and Pemerton were nice enough, but I did not find the book emotionally engaging. And it did feel somewhat as if the author was following a standard recipe, and the more I read the more this feeling increased. And there is an abundance of clichés one after the other because this is what the standard recipe for a romance prescribes. For example Mary was half in love with Jack from the beginning. Jack had grown very fond of her admired all her good qualities, her sunny personality and friendly and warm manner, throughout their friendship. And he thought her handsome enough and passionate. BUT never, did it cross his mind that he might be in love with her. Men! :) Suddenly one day after a week in Pemworth, with Mary just continuing to be her usual nice self, completely of the blue, Jack realises he loves her! Just like that! Very convenient, and unconvincing. It felt as if there was a timer somewhere, and the author thought "Ok, we are 2/3 through the book, it is time for the hero to suddenly wake up". And that was that. As if the timer for your roast in the oven went of, letting you know it was cooked now.
Going by the standard plot, I knew that immediately after we find out about Jack’s ‘change of heart’, it was time the heroine found out his true motives, feel betrayed and ran away. And right on cue, in the next paragraph the heroine is taking a walk alone in the gardens. "How much do you want to bet that she is now going to overhear the hero saying he offered for her because of her money?" I thought. That was a rhetorical question that popped into my mind, and of course don’t take the bet because you will loose.
More clichés follow: Mary runs away, Jack is angry at her betrayal, spends a few weeks drinking, gambling, wenching, then suddenly decides to go and find her after all. He finds her, convinces her he loves her now (he just says so, she believes him) and they live happily ever after.
There is nothing at all wrong with the premise of this story. It is just that its delivery, did not hit the mark, for me. Especially the part were the hero has to convince the heroine of the sincerity of his feelings – considering he is known to have lied to her originally- can be made so much more of. It deserves a bigger chunk of the book, not just 2 paragraphs. I think I am going to have a quick re-read of Diane Farr’s Fortune Hunter, to see if it as good as I remember. All I remember about it now is that I liked it, and that I had thought: "Aha! This is how a ‘Fortune Hunter Hero’ story should be like". Unfortunately, I can not say the same for ‘A Change of Heart’.