Dear Ms. Milan,
I had been hearing positive buzz from several quarters for this, your debut romance, so I approached it with perhaps higher-than-usual hopes. Maybe because of those high hopes, the read started out a little rocky for me. The heroine and hero encounter each other in the first scene, and I found myself disappointed right away because while the heroine is portrayed at being good at her profession, both her actions and her interior monologue give lie to that. I was really hoping to see more audacity and confidence from her.
Jenny Keeble meets Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely in her guise of Madame Esmerelda, London fortuneteller. Blakely has been brought along to Esmerelda’s by his puppyish cousin, Ned. Ned has been a client of Esmerelda’s for two years, and Blakely thinks it’s about time he does something to remove his cousin from the woman’s influence.
Esmerelda does indeed have enormous influence over Ned, and she does take his money. But in exchange, she’s given Ned something he desperately needs….hope. Ned is prone to depressive episodes and it was in the throes of one of these that he first visited Jenny, asking her to give him a reason why he shouldn’t just end it all. Since then, Jenny has helped to keep Ned relatively stable and in addition to lining Jenny’s pockets, Ned has provided her with something she’s had little of in her life – friendship.
Blakely is a rather familiar character, the scientifically-minded, aristocratic, cold-fish hero. He’s more comfortable in the jungles of Brazil, observing the fauna, than in a London drawing room taking tea with his social equals. He feels a little too familiar at first – he’s given the requisite autocratic upbringing to explain his distrust of emotion. But he does get fleshed out along the way, in large part by showing his interactions with his much younger half-sister – he loves her but has no idea how to show her or tell her this, and as a consequence they have a strained relationship. His relationship with Ned is even worse – his attempts to toughen up Ned, his heir, have contributed to Ned’s self-confidence issues. Ultimately I sympathized with Blakely, once I could see the vulnerability beneath the steely facade. His childhood had been as traumatic as Jenny’s in its own way.
Jenny was, it’s strongly implied, born on the wrong side of the blanket, fostered out to a farm family and then sent to boarding school at age four. She has no idea where she comes from and has never really had anyone to love or be loved by. At 18, she fled the school in scandalous fashion, figuring that if she were to be an outsider, it might as well be on her own terms. I was never quite clear how she made the leap from that to faux-Gypsy fortunetelling; I understand that options for a woman in her position were limited but it still seems like rather an outre career choice. Nonetheless, she has done fairly well for herself, managing to build a savings and maintain her independence. Blakely comes along to threaten that.
Ned, firmly believing in Jenny’s prognostication skills and wanting to prove them to Blakely, devises a “scientific” test after Jenny predicts that Blakely will meet his future wife at an upcoming ball. Jenny and Ned each have their own reasons for wanting to win, and Jenny devises a series of tasks for Blakely to complete on the way to finding true love. Thus we have Jenny, Ned and the veracity of fortunetellers on one side, and Blakely and science on the other side. Quite a battle ensues.
There is a lot to like in this book. The hero and heroine, though familiar types, are well-drawn and sympathetic. The secondary characters, particularly Ned, are intriguing and fleshed out. The prose is mostly smooth, though I’m deducting points for the use of “orbs” to describe eyes. The love scenes are well-done.
What didn’t work as well for me was a persistent tendency to tell rather than show. Or rather, to tell and show. I don’t mind internal monologues, but when the internal monologue tells me things as a reader that I already know, I feel like I’m not being given enough credit to understand the story and characters without having things spelled out. Sometimes less is more.
All in all, though, that was a fairly minor irritation. I really enjoyed Proof by Seduction, and am looking forward to your future books. My grade: B+.
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