Jul 29 2008
Dear Ms. Thomas,
When I read your historical romance debut, Private Arrangements, in February of this year, I was enchanted. The note I wrote in my book log reads as follows: “Excellent, excellent debut. Beautifully written and characterized, and quite different from the usual historical romance (especially in allowing a heroine to be less than saintly). My only complaint is it could have been a little longer – the ending felt a bit rushed.”
So, my anticipation level was quite high when I opened Delicious. Happily, I was not disappointed.
The story begins with this irresistible line:
In retrospect people said it was a Cinderella story.
…that line and my experience with your earlier book were enough to signal that I was in for one subversive fairy tale. And who doesn’t love a subversive fairy tale?
In 1892, Bertie Somerset unexpectedly drops dead at his Yorkshire estate. The death comes as a shock to everyone; Bertie was only 38 years old and not known to be in bad health. Among the surprised mourners are Bertie’s notorious cook and erstwhile lover, Verity Durant, and his estranged half-brother, barrister and rising politician Stuart Somerset. Bertie’s tangled and fraught relationships with both Stuart and Verity, and Stuart and Verity’s with each other, form the heart of the plot of Delicious.
I should probably take a moment to note that as with Private Arrangements, Delicious is told partly through flashbacks. Chapters Three, Five, Seven and Nine flash back ten years to 1882, and detail some of Verity’s history with Bertie, as well as her first meeting with Stuart. I recall some readers complaining about the flashbacks in Private Arrangements, a complaint I didn’t agree with. I felt that that book was actually enriched by not being written in a linear fashion. I feel the same way about Delicious – in fact, in the case of this book, I think a linear plot would have detracted from the story a great deal, since the threads that tie these characters together are only gradually revealed in the course of the story.
Stuart is a wonderful hero – the illegitimate son of a nobleman, he has tried to make up for his disreputable origins by becoming a model of rectitude. He is a politician concerned with social justice, but also, like any politician, he’s ambitious, and his chances of rising high indeed look very good. Stuart becomes engaged to a family friend early in the story, a young woman whom he likes and feels will be an asset to his career.
Verity is at first a little harder to get a handle on – she’s a woman with a murky past who has had to recreate herself, and her personality is marked both by sadness over losses she’s never quite gotten over, and at times an impetuousness that would seem to belong to a younger woman. She is definitely an unusual and sympathetic heroine.
Delicious interestingly juxtaposes Verity’s vocation as a cook against Stuart’s, for lack of a better phrase, food issues. Unlike his sybaritic brother, Stuart’s relationship with food is joyless and purely functional, at least until Verity comes back into his life. Stuart’s first taste of Verity’s cooking (a cucumber soup that is, he thinks, “sublime”) is described thusly:
He cared nothing for food. Hadn’t in ages and ages. Food was sustenance, something to keep him alive and healthy, nothing more. A dinner at the Tour d’Argent was no different from a dinner at the lowliest fish-and-chip shop: just dinner.
This was not just dinner. This was as dangerous and unpredictable as the presence of a scantily clad woman in the cell of a monk who’d taken a vow of chastity.
He set down his spoon. Thirty years ago he’d have begged for one more sip.
Twenty years ago he’d have been thrilled to discover that his sense of taste hadn’t permanently atrophied. Ten years ago he might have taken this sudden reawakening of his palate for an augury of wonderful things to come, things he’d wished for with the single-mindedness of a long-buried seed seeking the unbearable beauty of a world drenched in light.
Today he wished only to read his newspaper at dinner without being distracted—or profoundly disturbed—by a bowl of soup.
Food plays an important part in Delicious, and some of the descriptions were mouth-watering enough to make me hungry.
Speaking of mouth-watering – I’ve become one of those jaded romance readers who more often than not ho-hums at love scenes. That said, the love scenes in Delicious were very effective, and yes, hot. Especially the first one, involving Stuart coming upon Verity in his bathtub (the scene was so luscious that I forgave it its contrived set-up).
There is a nice secondary romance between Stuart’s fiancée Lizzy and his secretary, both of whom have hidden depths behind their proper facades.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate reading a historical romance free of spies, nefarious plots and mustache-twirling villains. The villains in Delicious, such as they are, are merely real, flawed people – selfish and misguided, with their own hurts motivating their bad behavior.
I also have to say, without giving anything away, that I loved both Stuart’s and Verity’s behavior near the end of the book. They were such adults – in the best sense of the word. They behaved with honor, but not the self-sacrificing faux-honor of so many romance heroes and heroines (especially the heroines). They had made those mistakes in the past and learned from them. How refreshing!
My final grade for Delicious is an A. Ms. Thomas, I will be eagerly anticipating your next book; you’re well on your way to being one of my favorite historical romance authors.