Dear Ms. March:
I know when the review copy first came to my house, I pretty much passed it over. The title, I think, was a bit twee but a month or so ago, I came across the review copy again and learned that this was your debut book. I love debut books so I thought I would give it a try. We have a first page feature on our blog and the idea behind the first page is to have an opening strong enough that the reader will turn the page and eventually want to read/buy the book. Your opening was very strong. The hero enters a gambling den and spies a woman that is “a sing to be indulged in and never repented.” He has spent six months wooing this “beautiful harlot” and has won her, or so the reader is led to believe. By the end of chapter one, the hero has extricated this harlot from the lap of another man and dragged her off to his carriage.
What the reader is quick to learn is that Philip’s harlot is actually his wife, Charlotte, Duchess of Rutherford. Philip, the Duke of Rutherford, grew up next door to the Squire’s kids, Ethan and Charlotte. Ethan fell in love with and tried to run off with Philip’s fiance. Philip obviously felt betrayed and he took the one thing that he knew that Ethan loved and that was Charlotte. He wooed her, married her and made her confess that she loved him only to be told in return that she was married to exact revenge on her brother and that he does not love her. He then abandons her.
Charlotte runs away and tries to get him to petition for divorce by pretending (unfortunately) to be a harlot, sleeping around with various men, bringing scandal down upon the name. Ultimately, Philip decides that enough is enough because he does love her, regrets his actions and is determined to win her over and sets out to seduce her and make her love him again.
In a lame scheme to win her back, Philip says that he will grant her wish for divorce if she assists him in obtaining the hand of his former fiance (the one that Ethan tried to seduce away) and in the process gets Charlotte to a) spend time with him and b) confess what she thinks are the traits of a good husband.
The reason that I said it was lame is because it didn’t feel sophisticated enough of a plot for either the writing or for Philip. It places the two of them in constant contact which is convenient and necessary but I wished that there had been something else to bring them together because how are you going to convince someone to love you while trying to marry you off to someone else? The plot seemed counter intuitive to Philip’s end goal. And the facade is dropped shortly after making the whole idea seem kind of superfluous.
The other thing that really bothered me was that Charlotte was never unfaithful, not really in mind or body. I loved the idea of the scandalous duchess and the fact that in all the years that they were separated, she never once took a lover was a big, big disappointment. To me this bordered on virgin widow territory. To the outside world, and to Philip, she had taken many lovers. She taunts Philip with this knowledge. Yet he doesn’t care so why make her nearly virginal?
There was another scene that harkened to the early days of romances when Charlotte is caught playing cards with all stablemen, groomsmen, and the butler. Even in the Victorian time period, there were distinct class differences, even between the servants themselves.
But I really did love the marriage in trouble story. It wasn’t enough that the two of them loved each other. It wasn’t even enough that they confessed those feelings for each other. It was about respect and honor and commitment and giving up control–all those things that love is supposed to comprise. In some aspects, the romance between Charlotte and Philip is a reminder that love must be a very unselfish act because it makes you intensely vulnerable to the other. B