Dear Ms. Grant:
Your first two books, A Lady Awakened and A Gentleman Undone were both straight A reads for me, so I was delighted when I saw that A Woman Entangled was available. About a third of the way into the book, I was confused and dismayed by how uninvolving I found the story and characters; this was not the Cecilia Grant I remembered from these other two books. A Woman Entangled did finish much stronger than it started, making it a worthwhile read, if still a slightly disappointing one.
Kate Westbrook is the eldest child of a happy and loving family, but she wants more. The daughter of an actress and the younger son of an earl, Kate has always been keenly aware of her place in society (or rather, the lack thereof). Kate’s father, a barrister, was disowned when he married her mother, and while he has long resigned himself to his estrangement from his noble family, Kate can’t quite get over the snubs and lack of opportunities that she’s dealt with her entire life.
Nick Blackshear is also a barrister, a colleague and protege of Kate’s father. He has suffered his own social embarrassment recently; his brother (the hero of A Gentleman Undone) has married a former prostitute, and while Nick no longer acknowledges his brother, the stain of Will’s actions have affected Nick both professionally and socially.
Nick has been enamored of the beautiful Kate since meeting her three years previously. He attempted to declare himself on one occasion early in their acquaintance, but Kate, familiar with and adept at turning away lovesick swains, rebuffed him without acknowledging his interest (at the time, she thought it kinder to save Nick embarrassment). Kate likes Nick, but her sights are set higher; she has been trying to cultivate Lady Harringdon, her aunt by marriage, whose husband is the current earl. Kate is careful to be appropriate and discreet in her actions (for instance, sending a congratulatory note when her aunt arranges a good marriage for her daughter), and she is finally rewarded with an invitation to visit. Kate hopes that with her cousins all successfully brought out and launched onto matrimonial waters, her matchmaking aunt may be willing to mend the family estrangement and sponsor her debut so that Kate can find the sort of husband she believes is her birthright. Unfortunately, Kate discovers that her clueless and snobbish aunt does want to help her, but said help consists of finding Kate a position as a lady’s companion. She doesn’t believe that Kate can expect anything better, given her origins, and in fact seems to disapprove of the very notion.
Kate’s devotion to social advancement did not make her the most sympathetic of heroines. To be fair, her social climbing is not entirely selfish or shallow; she sees how her younger sisters are treated at school, and how the whispers and taunts weigh on them, particularly the young and sensitive Rose. Kate herself was once the target of snide asides and snubs from schoolmates, but she was able to deflect them, by and large, by becoming something of a fashion leader. She doesn’t just want the good life for herself; Kate wants to restore her entire family to social prominence, and reconcile her father to his siblings and elderly mother.
Nick’s renunciation of his brother is actually the bigger sin in my eyes, but it’s not so prominent a part of his storyline, at least early in the book, so I didn’t dwell on it the way I did Kate’s ambitions. When I did think about it, I understood it less, though I do suppose it’s historically accurate. Nick has a right to be angry, I suppose, that Will’s choices are affecting Nick’s professional ambitions. Nick has caught the attention of a new baron who is planning to take his seat in Parliament and enlists Nick’s aid as a speech and rhetoric coach. The hope is that the baron might hire Nick as a secretary and perhaps eventually help him run for a seat in the House of Commons. Nick lives in fear, though, of the baron learning of his family’s scandal and dropping him straight away. Again, I did understand how this might make Nick angry at Will, but he didn’t really seem angry – it seemed more like he had cut Will out of his life as a necessity, because continued association with him would only make Nick look worse. The cold calculation inherent in that choice did not make me feel terribly sympathetic towards Nick.
It’s as Kate begins to attend society events with her aunt that she and Nick are thrown together in a setting outside the confines of Kate’s family home, and she finally begins to see Nick in a different light. Kate’s father has asked Nick to look out for her at these events, and Nick is rather magnanimously willing to help Kate in her husband hunt, which Kate plans to continue under Lady Harringdon’s nose.
Besides my issues with both Nick and Kate as sympathetic characters, I just didn’t find them or their problems especially compelling, particularly when compared to the heroes and heroines of the first two books in the series. It really was only late in A Woman Entangled that I got caught up in their story and began to root for a happy ending. It helped that both characters did grow in the course of the story and begin to reconcile themselves to the things that they couldn’t change. Kate begins to have pangs of conscience over pursuing a nobleman whom her new friend, Miss Smith, is obviously smitten with. Even though I had issues earlier with Kate’s social ambition, I appreciated at that point that she was not your typical self-sacrificing heroine – she really struggled with the question of putting her own interests ahead of those of a girl she liked, one who had been kind to her.
Nick makes tentative, slow steps towards mending his relationship with his brother, as well. There I felt that he was giving up a bit less, though, since he comes to realize that the damage is already done to his reputation and his situation is not going to be much affected by a continued association. Still, his unbending a bit softened me towards him, and I came to appreciate the romanticism of his long devotion to Kate (though of course his earlier devotion is more based on Kate’s beauty and grace; it’s in the course of the story, when he really comes to know her on a deeper level, that he truly falls in love with her).
Ultimately, grading A Woman Entangled is a little tricky for me – I don’t think it’s fair to judge it too much on a curve based on my appreciation of previous Cecilia Grant books, since if I had read it first without any expectations I probably wouldn’t have had the problems I had with it. For that reason, I give it a B and a borderline recommendation, with the caveat that readers new to Grant should start with one of her earlier books first.