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REVIEW: A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

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.

A Woman Entangled by Cecilia GrantKate 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.

Best regards,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

16 Comments

  1. AnimeJune
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 08:29:19

    I had a very similar disappointed reaction to this novel.

    Honestly, I didn’t think the story was strong enough or that there was really enough conflict. Ultimately – the characters didn’t actually *do* very much during the novel.

    I understand the lack of sympathy for Kate’s social climbing, but for me, I wished she’d actually been more calculating or had a better plan in place for her goals. Both of the heroines of the previous novels managed to be sympathetic while using extremely unsavoury means of attaining their goals – making a fake heir, prostitution and cardsharping, for instance.

    Social climbing for women in the 19th century was a necessity so I was expecting Kate to actually *do* something or have some particular plan in mind, but all she did was act extremely polite and smile a lot until she wore people down – a process that, with her aunt, took *years*. It seemed like her character was being softpedaled – she wasn’t actually doing anything wrong or particularly sneaky or clever other than being preternaturally patient and persistent and lucky. It felt like her character was on the fence – like she was trying to be modern and flawed, but didn’t want to be *actually* flawed enough to risk losing the reader’s sympathy.

    For me, that made her a really murky and less realized character than I’d been hoping for.

  2. Dallas
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 08:58:18

    Thanks for the heads up; I’ll adjust my expectations, based on your review. I actually like the idea of Nick disowning his brother, because it sounds realistic for the time–even if it offends my 21st century sensibilities. A little historical accuracy for a change sounds refreshing, given some of the contemporary-feeling “historicals” I’ve read lately.

    Guess I’ll have to see it how it actually plays out when I get the book.

    I was actually hoping the author might do a story line about Will Blackshear’s (or was it Theo Mirkwood’s?) business associate–the one whose face had been badly burned in the war.

  3. Patricia Eimer
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 09:23:11

    I liked Cecilia Grant’s other books but I’ll adjust my expectations for this one.

  4. tangodiva
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 10:49:50

    I have been patiently waiting for a discussion of this book since I finished it several weeks back. I had searched out other reviews, and while I found many online reviewers disliked Kate, one (whose name and Web site escape me – sorry) made an interesting point that Kate was very similar to a grown up Amy March.

    For myself, this book was more of a strange mashup of “Little Women” and “Pride and Prejudice,” which was mentioned ad infinitum during the course of “A Woman Entangled,” so much so that I felt I was getting a dissertation on Elizabeth B. and Mr. D. And while I didn’t dislike Kate, the book really didn’t scan for me. The language was almost arch, and I could see how it was an attempt to hew closely to the tropes of the time, so much so that I wondered, “How in the world are these two going to have sex without getting married? Because neither of them would do that as they have been written. And I don’t see him proposing anytime soon.”

    And when they finally DID, I was a little shocked with how worldly they both became between the sheets, because I had seen no indication of either Kate or Nick burning up the mattress throughout the first two-thirds of the book. Which in turn made me say, “Really?” a la Seth and Amy.

    Although I really liked the first two books in this series, I look forward to future books by this author that aren’t about the Blackshear family.

  5. Maili
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 11:29:20

    @AnimeJune:

    Social climbing for women in the 19th century was a necessity

    Yes. Not only that, it was a career for most women for centuries. Nothing personal. Looking around for the ‘right company’ to establish a lifetime job was important. That includes determining whether a potential husband would be kind, generous and conscientious. That he would take his responsibilities seriously which includes looking after his tenants, his family (including her own), the estate and the future. On the contrary to most romance novels, the majority of families didn’t force their daughters to marry nor so young.

    Massive kudos to Grant for making it part of her story in this book.

  6. hapax
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 14:27:50

    While I give her full credit for attempting something “different”, and her writing style is quite beautiful, I so fully loathed both the h/h of the two previous Grant books that I could not finish either. So I am unlikely to try this one.

    (That is not to belittle the many, many readers who loved both books. They just didn’t work work for me, and that’s probably more due to failings in my character than in Grant’s writing.)

    But I just had to comment on the cover of this book, in light of the discussions of genre sexism in other threads. Just *look* at that cover!

    Normally I cringe at displays of naked waxed sixpacks, but the reversal of gender stereotypes just captivates me here. The hero is undressed, passive, relaxed, looking away, utterly vulnerable. The heroine is fully clothed, protective, strong, engaged, looking directly at the viewer, in full command.

    It’s particularly notable that the hero is exposing his neck and vital areas, while the heroine is explicitly guarding hers, and implicitly watching out for his as well.

    (Also, both poses look comfortable and attainable without years of yoga classes).

    Shallow creature that I am, I might pick this up for the cover alone.

  7. Jennie
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 14:50:08

    You all make good points about the necessity and appropriateness (at least in terms of historical authenticity) of both Kate’s social climbing and Nick’s cutting off of Will. I can handle (can revel in, in fact) unlikable h/hs, or even just likable ones doing unlikable things. But I do require more charm and personality from misbehaving characters. I can say in my head that I understand Kate’s actions, but I can’t really root for her unless I like her, and unadmirable behavior + blah personality = character I’m lukewarmish on at best. The same goes for Nick. Both were just not vibrant enough for me to care about them for most of the story. AnimeJune, I totally agree about the lack of conflict. When there’s not enough going on in a story to keep me engaged, the inevitability of the HEA makes the whole thing feel a bit like an exercise.

    That said, I did give it a B and think it was worth reading; the prose is still very good. I just find it hard not to compare to the first two books.

  8. Jennie
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 14:54:42

    @tangodiva: I had kind of the same reaction to the love scene – it felt out of place somehow, given their respective personalities and social positions. I’m hardly an advocate for G rated romances, but if ever there was a book that seemed like it should have a closed bedroom door (or at least a wedding before the bedroom stuff), this was it. The contravening of social convention just did not ring true in this instance.

  9. Janine
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 11:35:19

    I want to read this; I’ll come back and comment when I have.

  10. GrowlyCub
    Jun 15, 2013 @ 15:08:56

    I had a very different reaction to Kate’s ambition. I was utterly incensed at Nick’s hypocrisy in condemning her for trying to reach something better for herself and her siblings while he cut off his brother for exactly the same reason. If it hadn’t been an e-book it would have hit the wall at that point.

    It really irks me incredibly that the underlying message of this book is that women ought not to look out for their own best interest, that it’s somehow unbecoming. I wanted her to nab an earl and live contently ever after. I found it especially grating in the face of the fact that the parents are blissfully happily married and totally ignoring the negative consequences for their kids and doing *jackshit* to ameliorate their kids’ unhappiness. And in light of that example, I’m supposed to rout for a relationship between Kate and Nick? I don’t think so.

    I do agree that Grant somehow managed to make me hate Nick less at the end, but I still wanted Kate to have chosen with her head rather than her gonads, especially since they had so incredibly little chemistry. Very disappointing book, but for completely the opposite reasons you cited.

  11. Jennie
    Jun 15, 2013 @ 23:50:41

    @GrowlyCub: Did Nick condemn her, really? It’s been a while since I read it, but I don’t remember him being really disapproving (at least, in a moral high horse way).

    As for the parents, I sort of thought the same thing – they were a bit oblivious to the consequences of their actions for their kids, but I thought that the salient point was that Kate actually *did* grow up in a happy family, and it was something that she needed to recognize in order to grow.

  12. Book Club: A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 08:01:12

    [...] month’s book club pick was reviewed by Jennie and we’ve reposted it today for a refresher.  Grant debuted with a magnificent historical novel, A Lady Awakened, at the very [...]

  13. Angela Booth
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 19:57:03

    While I adored Cecilia Grant’s other books, and have read them all, I won’t be reading this one.

    Both hero and heroine sound unappealing. I’d rather wait for the next Cecilia Grant and hope that she creates worthy story people next time around.

  14. Tara
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 23:13:04

    I really adored her first two, but felt similarly to everyone above on this one. The writing was still lovely, but yes, nothing really happened and the characters were dull because they were so busy being proper. This is why you need a rake or a rebel as part of the equation I guess. (Am I the only one who would’ve much rather been reading a book about Kate’s bluestocking sister Viola?)

    That being said, I too had a bit of a change of heart in the last quarter or so of the book when things started to happen and the characters became more interesting and less self-involved. By the end, I actually did have that heartwarming “Ahhh” moment.

    I’m still heartily looking forward to her next one.

  15. mara
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 00:37:38

    I haven’t yet read A Woman Entangled because I only just received it in the mail, but I’m not discouraged by your review. I loved this author’s first two novels and I adore historicals that are accurate and substantive, with characters who are beautifully complicated and existing wholly in their era, instead of being saddled with a modern mindset. Books like this are becoming more and more difficult to find.

  16. #Giveaway: Rachel Kall,Tarah Scott,Cecilia Grant
    Aug 08, 2013 @ 10:01:05

    [...] the barrister she rejected three years before. This was our July book club pick. You can read the review here and look at the Q&A [...]

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