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REVIEW: An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley

Dear Mrs. Beverley,

When I hear the name “Malloren,” I go to point like a champion gun dog. I’m there, poised and ready to read. But, after my disappointment that your last book didn’t work better for me, I opened this one mentally chanting, “please, please, please.” My prayers paid off as I enjoyed this book with it’s realistic view of the challenges 18th century women endured.

An Unlikely Countess by Jo BeverleyPrudence Youlgrave (love the name, BTW) allowed her anger to get her into a situation one dark night in Northallerton, Yorkshire. But luckily a knight errant charged, albeit drunkenly, to her rescue. In the aftermath of being escorted home as quietly as Prudence could make him act – the neighbors will talk you know – Catesby Burgoyne, second son and disappointment of the Burgoyne family, learns about why Prudence is living in near poverty.

After losing their home, she and her mother scrimped to allow her brother to train as a solicitor. Her mother recently died and now Prudence is waiting for said brother to come for her as he’s soon to be married to a prosperous merchant’s daughter. But he hasn’t come, hasn’t written, hasn’t made any move to rescue his sister. Catesby and Prudence part with fervent well wishes for her on his part but as a near penniless man he’s in no condition to offer more.

Tired of waiting, Prudence decides to take charge and head to her brother’s new house when she discovers he’s not even invited her to the wedding. She and her new sister-in-law take each other’s measure and come to an agreement that Prudence will be presented to Darlington society to find a husband. Prudence’s desires are modest – a home of her own, a man she can respect and children – but when only one man offers for her, she takes a deep breath, tries to ignore her inner longing for a man like the dashing Catesby and agrees to wed the older widower.

Meanwhile, Catesby’s fortunes have changed dramatically since the death of his older brother the Earl of Malzard. Though he’s never wanted the Earldom and its attendant duties, he is fiercely glad to be home again despite the fact that he knows his mother and widowed sister-in-law are just waiting for him to screw up. Escaping from the pressures for a day, he travels to Darlington where he discovers that Prudence is to be married that morning. But as he watches the wedding unfold, he knows it’s a disaster in the making. That inner voice which served him well as an Army officer pipes up and he objects right on cue when the vicar asks, “Does anyone know of any reasons….?”

But now the fat is in the fire and Catesby and Prudence must wed to maintain the fiction Catesby wove to support his actions and to keep her reputation from being ruined. After Catesby brings his most unsuitable Countess home, they have to learn about each other, face his scandalized family and dodge the attentions of a thwarted man bent on revenge.

Despite the fact that I love the fashions of the mid 18th century, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to be born then. Compared to the opportunities and freedoms I have, the position of women then could be ghastly. Under the control of men for almost their entire lives, their happiness depended on whether or not those men were saints or sinners. Denied the chances available to men, they were forced to make their way as best they could arrange it. The story upon which you based part of this book is heartbreaking. Thank goodness Prudence gets a fate better than that at your pen.

I like both Prudence and Catesby. They are strong characters in a world which expected little from them and thought less. Prudence, as a woman, is supposed to be meek and allow her brother to run her life but instead she supports herself and tries to make her own pathway to a life she wants. Catesby, the ‘nail that sticks up’ in the Army, inherits a position he never wanted but is doing his best to see to those who depend on him. And not throw over the traces too much. As these two discover more about each other, they find a fellow comrade-in-arms and support.

But they’re also not perfect. Prudence really isn’t initially suited to step into the shoes of a Countess and flounders a bit before finding her feet. I like the way you impart information about what the position entails, the day to day running of the house, the servant heirarchy and the fact that simply marrying a peer was only the beginning of Prudence’s duties which were as demanding of her as Catesby’s were of him.

Catesby has never been trained to be an Earl and though he’s got the aristocratic bearing, he’s still learning about field drainage, crop rotation plus a 1001 other things. He does take advantage of his perks though when the occasion calls for it. I like that he’s honest with Prudence about certain situations her actions cause even as he shows his decency towards the people involved.

The romance proceeds slowly despite the short time span of the book. I didn’t feel it was rushed and it makes sense given the fact that though these two feel a deep immediate connection, they still really don’t know each other well and have another issued hanging over their heads given what Prudence’s first fiance alledges. There’s a delightful lack of stupid mental lusting though you make it clear that they each find the other very attractive and are looking forward to consumating their marriage. And when the “I love yous” are said, they are timely and believable.

As for the villains of the piece, the bloodthirsty wench in me agreed with Prudence and Diana, Countess of Aradale, that I wanted to see that man go down. The revenge Catesby engineers might not have done the man in but, as he says, losing power and wealth were far worse for that person than death. The other malcontents of the story might not ever change their baseline opinions of Prudence and Catesby but their guns are spiked and perhaps one of them might eventually come around.

I closed the book with a happy smile on my face and a feeling that all’s right in the Malloren World. Prudence might still need a bit of time to settle into her new life and Cate probably still needs to brush up on his agricultural knowledge but with the two of them standing side by side, they’ll do just fine. B+

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

19 Comments

  1. Isobel Carr
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 16:06:58

    Yea! You can count me as another pointer, tail aquiver, LOL! Sadly, this will have to linger in my TBR pile until book three of my series is done.  I just can't read historicals when I'm writing, which is very annoying, as they're my favorite subgenre.

  2. Karenmc
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 16:39:50

    Another pointer here, and having read the first chapter online, my tail is already wagging.

  3. Kaetrin
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 17:03:25

    I love the Malloren world too! Is the Diana you refer to actually the Countess of Aradale and Rothgar’s wife or is it another Diana? Does Rothgar appear? Please tell me we get at least a little of the delicious man!! :)

  4. Annabel
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 17:29:30

    *When I hear the name “Malloren,” I go to point like a champion gun dog.*

    Best starting line ever in a review! Haha! And I am the same way. I never get tired of reading her Malloren series.

    Yes, yes, please tell us, does Rothgar appear? I pant for that man…

  5. becca
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 17:48:02

    I’m just discovering the Malloren books – wish they were available in e format at a more reasonable price, I’d gobble them all down.

  6. orannia
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 18:02:35

    I think I’ve read one of the Malloren books *ducks* but I do like the sound of this – I love books that detail the ‘goings on’ on big estates.

    *adds to TBR list*

    Does it matter if I read it complete out of series order?

  7. Danielle D
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 18:03:03

    I have this book — looks like another book I’m moving to the top of my TBR pile.

  8. Jayne
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 19:06:29

    @Kaetrin: Yes, we’re talking the Countess of Aradale but Rothgar is just a presence in this book. Always a force to be reckoned with but he stays in London the whole time working his wheels within wheels…

  9. Jayne
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 19:08:07

    @Isobel Carr: It’s well worth the wait. I can see you’d need to keep your head clear of outside influences while writing.

  10. Jayne
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 19:14:01

    Eeek! Just noticed my mistake with Diana’s title. No wonder everyone was confused. Is fixed now.

  11. Jayne
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 19:16:09

    @Annabel: No, no Rothgar. Alas. But Catesby has a wonderful buddy/friend whom I enjoyed getting to known and hope to see in a future book.

  12. Jayne
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 19:19:55

    @orannia: I think you can start here just fine. The book is “in the Malloren world” instead of being a direct sequel to any of the previous books.

  13. Jayne
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 19:35:56

    @becca: Sorry but I have to laugh a bit. Back in the day when I first started trying to collect Beverley’s Malloren backlist, finding *any* copies in a UBS was a triumph to be savored and getting one’s hands on a copy of the first book in the series was well nigh impossible.

  14. Annabel
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 20:29:28

    @Jayne

    I had the same experience. I was late to the Mallorens and I was searching everywhere for the earlier books. They were very hard to find! I think I finally got My Lady Notorious on Ebay.

    I will have to re-buy them all in digital format when I get an e-reader and I will do so no matter how they’re priced, LOL. This is one case when I can be totally turned over a barrel and I won’t care. I simply can’t be without my Mallorens…

    I was very excited to hear about this new book so thanks so much for posting the review!

  15. R E G
    Mar 08, 2011 @ 20:57:29

    Maybe the blurb misled me; I wanted a different type of story.

    I thought there was enough for a whole novel just watching Prudence learn to be a countess, and watching Cate puzzle out his family dynamics. I was sure someone would step forward with an explanation for why they blamed Cate for various stuff that happened while he was abroad in the army.

    The drama that took place at the end spoiled the whole book for me. It felt contrived and let the author off the hook for following through on the stuff I found more interesting.

    I’ve loved Jo B’s books since the very first one! Wish I could love this one more.

  16. Jayne
    Mar 09, 2011 @ 07:24:27

    @Annabel: I got my copy of MLN from a now dear friend who saw my pitiful post at AAR about not being able to find a copy and offered one to me.

  17. Jayne
    Mar 09, 2011 @ 07:26:18

    @R E G: I did wonder at times if any of Cate’s army stuff would be explained more.

    I can see your point about most of the novel being enough for all of it but I needed to see the villain “get his” in order to feel satisfied.

  18. Connie
    Mar 09, 2011 @ 08:36:09

    I just finished the book and loved it. I am a huge Malloren fan and just ordered DEVILISH to re read Diana and Rothgar’s story (can’t find my old copy and it is out of print). I loved Cate’s friend Perry and do hope we get his story (are you listening Ms. Beverly?)

  19. meoskop
    Mar 09, 2011 @ 22:40:32

    @R E G: I agree. I felt like the book took a sudden turn from great to good and I regretted it.

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