Jan 6 2011
Dear Ms. Neville,
Here’s a testament to the fact that Twitter can sell books. I’ve enjoyed your personable tweets so much that when I saw on SonomaLass’s website that she enjoyed your newest novel, The Dangerous Viscount, I decided to get my hands on a copy.
This was back in October, before I bought my Kindle, and at the time, I couldn’t find the book at the Sony Store, so I did something I almost never do anymore — dragged myself to a brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble, where after some difficulty with a bookseller who didn’t know how to spell or pronounce “viscount,” I finally found a copy of the book.
Was The Dangerous Viscount worth the hunt? After a slow first quarter, my attention was caught and when I finished, I closed the book feeling entertained and satisfied. Before I get to the reasons why I felt this way, an introduction to the story and its charming characters is in order:
As the first sentence of The Dangerous Viscount says, “It all began with a glimpse of stocking.” The stocking in question is made of pink silk, and belongs to Diana Fanshawe, who, like Sebastian Iverley is a guest at Mandeville House, the home of the Marquis of Blakeney.
Blakeney is Sebastian’s cousin, but there is little closeness between the two men. Sebastian, though heir to a viscount, is a mere mister, bookish, poorly dressed and relatively unworldly, while Blakeney, a duke’s heir, is known for his athleticism, far more fashionably dressed, popular with the ladies and has little respect for Sebastian, whom he calls “Owl.”
Unfortunately for Sebastian, who falls into an instant infatuation with her, Diana Fanshawe is intent on becoming the Marchioness of Blakeney. Diana’s family lives in the vicinity, but Blakeney and his parents snubbed Diana, her siblings and her parents, when Diana was young. This only made Diana want Blakeney more but when she made her debut, he took no notice of her because of her lower birth. Instead, Diana married a kind, wealthy, and middle aged lord.
Now Diana is Lady Fanshawe, widowed and wealthy. She also dresses in high style. All of this has won her an invitation to Mandeville House, and this time, she is determined to capture Blakeney’s romantic interest and snag a proposal from him as well.
As for Sebastian, Diana only thinks of him as “Blakeney’s peculiar cousin.” She is polite but disinterested in him, though she allows him to accompany her on a brief visit to her eccentric parents’ home. This begins to change, though, when Diana and Sebastian return to Mandeville House. There a discussion between Diana, Blakeney and Blakeney’s friend Lamb of Sebastian’s inexperience with women turns into a challenge to Diana’s beauty, and she wagers Blakeney five hundred pounds that she can get Sebastian to kiss her.
In the following days, Diana finds ways to get Sebastian alone, and Sebastian falls for her. Despite his reticence and his inexperience, he does kiss her. She regrets having made the bet and hopes Sebastian will not learn of it, but of course, he does — and this comes about just as he is planning to ask Diana to marry him.
After overhearing Blakney and Lamb discussing the bet, Sebastian leaves Mandeville House to attend to his dying uncle, a misogynist who kept Sebastian away from women as a child and instilled some misconceptions in his heir.
Sebastian’s uncle dies, and Sebastian inherits the title of viscount. Unable to put Diana from his mind, he returns to London and asks his closest friends to help him remake himself into a fashionable man, the kind who would capture Lady Diana Fanshawe’s affections. He vows that he will make Diana fall in love with him, and then teach her what rejection feels like.
As mentioned before, The Dangerous Viscount began slowly for me. For the first ninety or so pages, I felt disengaged from the story and wasn’t sure if I should keep reading.
I think this was because Diana was so far out of Sebastian’s reach, and Sebastian, in Diana’s eyes, beneath her notice, that it was hard for me to feel any romantic spark in their interactions. Also, Sebastian’s initial interest in Diana seemed superficial to me since it was based on nothing more than a glimpse of stocking. It wasn’t until Sebastian learned of the wager, inherited his title, and set out to transform himself and get a little taste of revenge that I decided to stick with the book.
I am glad I stuck with it though, because it did become entertaining once Sebastian began to dress well and Diana sat up and took notice. Despite their flaws, the main characters were charming and endearing. I liked the way they both matured in the course of the book. I also loved the way the book turned the typical genre conventions on their heads — that it was the hero, rather than the heroine who was bookish and in need of a makeover, for example, and that he was the virgin and she the one who introduces him to sex.
I did feel that the turnaround in Diana when she decided she preferred Sebastian to Blakeney felt rushed, but I loved what happened as a consequence of that decision and Sebastian’s desire to balance the scales (I don’t want to give it away).
There were times when I wanted a little more darkness to this story, but at other times I enjoyed your deft hand with humor. The different inclinations of the characters — Sebastian’s interest in collecting rare books, Diana’s in fashion, Diana’s sister Minerva’s focus on politics and diplomacy, Diana’s father’s obsession with weighing everyone, and Diana’s mother’s dog-breeding hobby — gave the book warmth and tolerance. The combination of quirky eccentricities with humor reminded me a bit of some of Amanda Quick’s historical romances.
When I finished this book, I was glad I’d hunted for it and stuck with it through the slow beginning. I’m now interested in reading more of your work in the future. B for The Dangerous Viscount.