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REVIEW: How the Marquess Was Won by Julie Anne Long

Dear Ms. Long,

I’ve been reading your books since I discovered Beauty and the Spy back in 2006. Beauty and the Spy is still on my keeper shelf, and three others of your books have since joined it: The Secret to Seduction, I Kissed an Earl, and What I Did for a Duke. What’s more, I’ve read every book you’ve published since then. Even those I haven’t kept I have generally enjoyed or appreciated, so I am sad to say that your latest entry in the Pennyroyal Green series, How the Marquess Was Won, did not live up to my hopes.

How the Marquess Was Won	Julie Anne LongHow the Marquess Was Won opens with a man stumbling into Pennyroyal Green’s pub, the Pig & Thistle. The man has been shot and when Chase and Colin Eversea rush to his aid, he identifies himself as the Marquess Dryden. Julian Spenser, the marquess, appears close to death, and although his reputation as a cool customer, “Lord Ice,” precedes him, he cannot stop talking about a woman who appears to have devastated him in some fashion. Chase sends for the vicar, an Eversea cousin, and the action then shifts six weeks back in time.

Phoebe Vale and “Jules,” as Dryden is called, first meet in Postlethwaite’s Emporium of Lady’s Goods. Phoebe, a schoolteacher, jokes with Mr. Postlethwaite, pretending to be wealthy. The two also gossip about Lord Ice, whose exploits are detailed in the London broadsheets, emulated by many young men and sought after by young women. Though Pheobe has never met the reckless Dryden, she believes she is an expert in that subject.

While at Postlethwaite’s, Phoebe picks up a letter from Lisbeth Redmond, a former pupil now being courted by Dryden. Apparently Lisbeth’s parents are in Italy and her mother wants Phoebe to act as “a suitable friend or chaperone” at a two day house party in the home of her aunt and uncle, Isaiah and Fanchette Redmond.

(I found this puzzling since surely Lisbeth’s aunt would have been a more appropriate chaperone than a twenty-two year old schoolteacher who, as we later learn, spent her early childhood in Seven Dials).

Phoebe is pondering the offer, inclined to accept, when who should arrive at Postlethwaite’s but none other than Dryden himself. He carefully selects a silk fan whose intended recipient is surely Lisbeth Redmond. Waterburn, a viscount with a penchant for wagering, enters the shop shortly afterward, and wagers Dryden that he cannot steal a kiss from the “unkissable” Phoebe.

A hurt Phoebe leaves Postlethwaite’s intending to turn down Lisbeth’s offer, but she runs into Dryden again when he arrives at her place of work, Miss Endicott’s academy for young ladies. Dryden is there on the behalf of a recalcitrant niece, and Miss Endicott asks Phoebe to give him a tour of the academy. There Jules and Phoebe make a connection – each manages to surprise the other – and Phoebe is well on her way to being in love with Jules, so much so that she not only reverses her decision about attending the house party, but also thinking—though she rejects the thought—that he is meant for her.

As for Jules (who is far from being reckless as his reputation suggests and has amassed the fortune his father lost only through very careful planning), he too is smitten, though it takes him a long, long time to recognize it. But he does realize that he wants to impress the startling Miss Vale, and once the house party gets underway, he spends an unseemly amount of time in Phoebe’s company, endangering his plans to marry Lisbeth.

Yet Jules is determined to marry Lisbeth. It so happens that Lisbeth’s dowry is the last piece of land that once belonged to Jules’ family. Because Jules cannot let go of that piece of land, and because there is no other way to obtain it than to marry Lisbeth, he believes that no matter how he feels about Phoebe, he can’t offer her a place in his life except as his mistress. But when Waterburn makes another wager, this one with the potential to damage Phoebe, things become complicated…

Several weaknesses kept me from loving this book. The foremost is the speed with which Phoebe and Jules fell in love (It happens within a day or two of their first meeting). It’s not that I don’t believe in love in first sight. I do. But to sell me on love at practically first sight in a book is exceptionally hard, and in this case I wasn’t sold.

As a consequence, the falling in love part of the book felt rushed, and the result was that the chemistry between Jules and Phoebe seemed forced. While I very much liked Phoebe and very much liked Jules, I just didn’t care all that much about the two of them as a couple. And since I felt detached from the fate of their relationship, I wasn’t all that engaged in the narrative.

Another problem was that despite Phoebe’s thoughts about how people are more complex than surface appearance would indicate, but for two or three exceptions, the side characters came across as flat. There’s not much depth to Lisbeth or such members of the ton as Waterburn, d’Andre, and the Silverton twins. Sophia Licari, who was such a memorable “other woman” in The Secret to Seduction, makes an encore appearance here but shows little of the facets that made her so interesting in the earlier book.

Jonathan Redmond does show a glimmer of depth, and Olivia Eversea is as intense as ever. The most interesting side character to me, even off stage, is Lyon Redmond, but I think that has a lot to do with his terrific portrayal in I Kissed an Earl and the fact that ever since I found out his reasons for staying away from Olivia, I’ve been dying to see more of him. Alas, he does not actually appear in How the Marquess Was Won, nor does his sister Violet.

I don’t recall reading about Lisbeth, a Redmond who is cousin to Lyon, Violet and Jonathan, before this book. It’s possible I did and I just don’t remember. In any case, I think I would have felt more invested in the triangle between Phoebe, Jules and Lisbeth if I had remembered Lisbeth from earlier books or if she’d been a Redmond sibling. It is hard to have much sympathy for her, and while that makes it easier to root for Pheobe and Jules, it also makes the central conflict feel less significant.

For example, a scene in which Jules and Phoebe are nearly caught kissing in the woods dragged instead of riveting me. In addition, Jules’ determination to marry Lisbeth at all costs did not seem in keeping with his perceptiveness. It was easy for me to see through Lisbeth so I felt he should have been able to do so sooner. I understand that Phoebe’s background was unsuitable for a marchioness but surely Jules could have found another well-born girl to engage himself to, one who was more tolerable than Lisbeth. Yes, Lisbeth had the land he wanted, but she was so clearly not a match for him.

Perhaps because I was less engaged in this book than in earlier ones in this series, I found the anachronisms more glaring. I was able to gloss over some of them, but one in particular stood out: a botched waltz between Jules and Lisbeth starts a fad reminiscent of disco. Some readers may find this cute, but I was pulled out of the story each time the fad was mentioned.

It may sound like I didn’t enjoy or appreciate anything about this book, but that would not be true. I appreciated that the prose was as usual, much above average, with many lovely turns of phrase. And I enjoyed, albeit mildly, getting to know Jules and Phoebe. Each was sympathetic and appealing, Jules careful and methodical in his focus on keeping his promise to restore his mother’s dowry to her family, Phoebe at once young and filled with wonder yet clever, crafty, and also careful, in her own way. Both guarded their hearts and had no one to whom to “surrender their cares” which made me want to see them find happiness.

I just wish I could have felt more invested in Phoebe and Jules’ romantic relationship. Because I didn’t, much as it pains me, I cannot grade How the Marquess Was Won higher than a C/C+.

Sincerely,

Janine

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

19 Comments

  1. BRose
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 04:26:39

    Hmmm. I tried to get through one of her books a few months ago, but didn’t make it past chapter four.

    Since then I’ve heard the term “historical inaccuracy” applied to her work on numerous occasions, and haven’t been bothered to try her writing another time. But hey, with Julia Quinn’s quote on the cover, I guess you wouldn’t go into this expecting anything remotely historical or even British.

  2. Rosie
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 05:01:50

    Darn. I pre-ordered this one when Avon reduced the ebook price. Your favorite Long books are my favorites too. So obviously our tastes mesh on this author. Romantic chemistry is so crucial – especially when the plot appears so thin. I’m sure I’ll read this one eventually, as I’ve read the whole series so far. But I’m not moving it to the top of my to-be-read pile. Thanks for the review.

  3. Bronte
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 05:15:02

    I agree that this is not her best but I really quite enjoyed this book. There were certain anachronisms (I totally agree about the dance) but I found the book eminently readable. Will I rush back to read it again? No. But I did finish it fairly quickly and it kept me entertained. I do find Julie Ann Long a bit hit and miss. I loved I kissed an Earl and What I did for a Duke but couldn’t get into the Runaway Duke or Since the Surrender (which I am going to try again). I am very keen to read Olivia and Lyon’s story – I did like the way their story was peripherally involved in this book.

  4. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 07:19:31

    I loved her style, but with an inaccuracy on almost every page (a Regency couple talking about Faberge eggs? A fashionable gentleman driving a landau, and then driving it out of town?) it stopped me really getting into the story, or believing in the characters. I kept stopping for those “huh?” moments.
    It was my first Long, and it was as substantial as whipped meringue, but hey, sometimes meringue is what you crave.

  5. Las
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 07:23:53

    I’ve been waiting for reviews of this one, because I’ve been undecided about reading it since the title and plot came out. Another titled hero? And main characters that have nothing to do with the rest of the series? It was only my love for the series as a whole and Long’s prose that had me considering picking it up in the first place. But now you tell me that it’s another story with one of the main characters insisting on marrying someone else even though they’re in love with another without a truly compelling reason. No thank you. That exact scenario was the dark cloud hovering over the otherwise fantastic What I Did for a Duke.

  6. Janine
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 10:45:26

    @BRose: It’s true, Long does have factual inaccuracies and anachronisms in her books but I’m usually able to go with the flow because her prose doesn’t feel all that anachronistic to me. Prose and language are matters of personal taste but Long’s sentences are so charming to me that she can often evoke such an emotional response in me that I’m swept up in the story and gloss over the anachronisms. The same technique can also make some tired plots feel fresh and new. I’m not sure why but this book didn’t quite manage that — it didn’t flow naturally but felt forced instead.

    @Rosie: I think Jane liked it better than I did, so you might too.

    I think the chemistry would have worked better for me if Jules and Phoebe’s feelings of attraction had grown more gradually. For love at first sight to work for me the characters really have to fit together like two halves of the same whole, and I didn’t feel that way about Phoebe and Jules, although they did have some commonalities.

    @Bronte: I liked the peripheral development on the Lyon/Olivia front too. I’m just dying to see Lyon again and the wait for his return feels very long. I’m betting Olivia will get engaged to someone else now and Lyon will show up at that point. I’m anxious to see how Long resolves the conflict with Olivia’s father in a way that doesn’t give short shrift to the important issue at stake (I don’t want to give it away to readers who haven’t gotten to I Kissed an Earl). I’m also curious as to whether the truth about Colin’s parentage will ever come out. For all these reasons, I’ll be there with bells on for the last book in this series.

    I haven’t read The Runaway Duke but I did like Since the Surrener. It wasn’t the best in the series but I actually connected with Chase and Rosalind better than with the protagonists of the first two books in the series.

  7. Janine
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 10:50:27

    @Lynne Connolly: I’m not nearly as well versed in the Regency period as you are so I’m not yanked out of the story quite as often. But that dance thing was incredibly distracting to me.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t have recommended this one as the place to start. I actually think that her last two books, I Kissed an Earl and What I Did for a Duke were more substantial than this one. Not in terms of historical accuracy, but in terms of the emotional issues the characters dealt with. I especially liked the thematic way she dealt with the passage of time in the latter book, in light of the main characters’ age difference.

    @Las: Perhaps getting it from the library would be an alternative? You might like it better than I did, and even if you don’t, there was a development on the Olivia/Lyon front that moves the overarching plot forward.

  8. Tina
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 10:54:46

    What I Did for a Duke and Lover Like No Other were wonderful reads so I was anxious for this one.

    But, yeah, this is about a C+ for me as well. I liked Julian and Phoebe. I loved their conversations with each other. But the plotting felt all over the place for me and not in a good way.

    Historical romance is not my favorite of the genre (I will read a handful of favorite authors, though) because the lion’s share of the books all are set in the same place and roughly the same time period that it gets old real fast. And I find that some heroes & heroines in some historical romances feel so modern in their thoughts and actions anyway that the “historical” part of it seems to be reserved for the setting and clothes. So unless an inaccuracy is glaring or something I know for sure is wrong, it tends to go over my head.

  9. Janine
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 11:47:19

    @Tina: It sounds like we are in accord on this book. I do agree the plotting didn’t feel all that cohesive. As I was writing the review I remembered the niece that brought Jules to Miss Endicott’s academy. She was dropped completely and never mentioned again after Jules and Phoebe’s first meeting, so she felt like a contrivance.

    The historical subgenre can be hit or miss, but there are enough good books getting written and promising new authors appearing on the horizon (like Cecilia Grant with A Lady Awakened) that I’m nowhere near ready to give up on it. I do wish there was a greater diversity of settings. It has long been my favorite genre of romance, though, because I generally find books set in our historical past more romantic than books set anywhere else.

  10. infinitieh
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 00:43:18

    So this is not as funny as WHAT I DID FOR A DUKE? Too bad.

  11. Junne
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 09:25:06

    In What I did for a Duke, what I loved the most was the casual way JAL approached their May-December relationship. Is there a significant age-gap between the heroes in this novel too?

  12. Janine
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 11:23:37

    @infinitieh: There is some humor, I just wasn’t swept up in the story the same way.

    @Junne: I think the heroine is twenty two and I would say the hero is in his thirties but I don’t remember his exact age.

  13. Lorenda Christensen
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 22:17:22

    I think this is the first disagreement we’ve had Janine. Maybe it was because I finished (the very good) A Lady Awakened and was in the mood for lighter fare, but I really enjoyed this book.

    I will admit my likes and dislikes of most books depend largely on my hormones. :)

  14. Janine
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 22:21:52

    @Lorenda Christensen: I read How the Marquess Was Won in the midst of holiday stress so mood may have been a factor in my case as well, LOL. Glad you enjoyed it, Lorenda. And the Grant as well.

  15. Sweeney
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 08:19:11

    I really liked this book too. I thought both characters were really compelling and I was driven to read how they would find a HEA with what was standing in their way….

  16. Janine
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 08:59:06

    @Sweeney: Glad you enjoyed it more. As I said above, I think Jane did too.

  17. Ariel/Sycorax Pine
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 19:52:00

    I just finished this one too, and have been contemplating writing a review, but my feelings were so mixed I can’t seem to make a start on it. I actually was really taken by the chemistry between them, but the details rankled – the very silly dance craze was the most persistent and disruptive to my enjoyment, but the moment when he thinks back on his schooling at Eaton also sticks in my craw. Still – all in all a pleasurable read: I just wish it had been more deftly edited before publication, I think.

  18. Janine
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 21:59:39

    The chemistry thing was my biggest problem with the book. I think I could have been taken by it too if the falling in love hadn’t seemed so rushed in the first few scenes. Everything else in the relationship felt predicated on that fast, early connection, and since I felt it had happened too fast, I couldn’t really believe in their relationship. It’s hard to articulate exactly why I wasn’t sold, why it felt too fast to me. But for whatever reasons, the emotions seemed excessive early on.

    If I noticed “Eaton” (and I think I might have) I didn’t mention it in the review because I read an ARC, and I review them in the hopes that finished copies are better edited. Those hopes aren’t always realized, unfortunately.

    As for the dance fad, it was incredibly disruptive to me as well. I get the feeling that it was meant to be a kind of wink at the reader, but when I read a historical, even though I understand that authors will get some facts wrong, I want to be transported to another time and place — and not be jolted back to 2011 by a joke.

  19. What Janine is Reading
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 12:03:12

    […] writing style and amusing humor, but ultimately, I felt this was one of her weaker books. Review here. […]

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