JOINT REVIEW: You Were Made to Be Mine by Julie Anne Long
After taking a six-year break from Julie Anne Long’s books, I read After Dark with the Duke last year. I enjoyed it more than I expected to. Jennie read it and also liked it a lot, so we decided to review Long’s newest historical romance, You Were Made to be Mine, together. – Janine
Janine: You Were Made to Be Mine is the fifth book in the Palace of Rogues series, which is about a found-family boarding house near the London docks. The proprietresses, Delilah and Angelique, were once wife and mistress to the same cad but are now each happily married (to strong, handsome men—this is a romance series, after all). A third partner is Dot, Delilah’s quirky former maid. They share their boarding house with a coterie of guests and friends. Some only stay there temporarily and others are permanent fixtures.
Lady Aurelie Capet arrives at the Grand Palace on the Thames in desperate straits, on the run from the Earl of Brundage, her fiancé, who resides in Paris. She presents herself, not entirely successfully, as Mrs. Mary Gallagher, an Irish widow. Her secrecy is warranted, because Brundage has set former British spymaster Christian Hawkes on her trail.
The book takes place some years after the Napoleonic Wars. Hawkes is recently released from a French prison after three years. Hawkes had suspected Brundage, an English diplomat, of selling information to the French but was arrested before he could prove it. Hawkes knows Brundage is responsible for his imprisonment, and he’s determined to expose Brundage.
Brundage isn’t sure how much Hawkes knows about his role in the arrest and he’s desperate to recoup not only Aurelie but a priceless necklace he gave her—a necklace which, unbeknownst to Aurelie, he borrowed from a French family. He is now in line for an ambassadorship, and Aurelie’s unintentional theft could put that in jeopardy. No one is better at gathering information than Hawkes, so Brundage offers him a great deal of money to find Aurelie. He believes Hawkes to be a broken man so he judges that despite the past, Hawkes won’t betray him.
Hawkes learns from Aurelie’s maid that Brundage did something that scared or hurt Aurelie so much that she fled without most of her possessions. Hawkes follows her to England where he rousts his network of informants on the London streets. He is also on the trail of evidence against Brundage; he finds out about a London antique shop Brundage may have used to launder money he received from the French.
Meanwhile, Aurelie begins to settle in at the Grand Palace. She is still very wary, but the warm atmosphere, delicious food, and kind people comfort her some. But she has to sell the necklace to be able to book a voyage to Boston, where her brother lives. She doesn’t know who to trust or turn to, except for Mr. Erasmus Monroe, a friend of her brother’s whom she has never met. She’s reluctant to trust even this gentleman, but since she needs help to sell the necklace, she must turn to someone.
Aurelie’s relative peace at the Grand Palace is disrupted when a wounded Hawkes stumbles in and passes out. One of his informants put him in touch with a driver who took a woman answering to Aurelie’s description to the Grand Palace. On his way to investigate, Hawkes was knifed.
Everyone at the boarding house rallies around the unconscious Hawkes, administering him what medical assistance they can. He is still recovering from prison deprivation and has caught a fever, so Aurelie volunteers to watch over him.
Thus begins Aurelie and Hawkes’s acquaintance. Each is vulnerable to the other and each is aware of it. Aurelie takes comfort from being there for Hawkes in his hour of need—as no one was there for her (as the book puts it, though I thought it was pretty clear that her maid was there for her in a big way). Aurelie develops a crush on Hawkes and Hawkes, once he recovers, realizes that inexplicably, she is of emotional importance to him.
This takes us through about a third of the book, so I don’t want to say a lot more about how their separate missions—his to identify and capture her and hers to sell the necklace—come up against each other, or about how the traumas Brundage subjected each of them to intersect.
There were things I really liked about this book. I thought the plot was good, and I particularly liked the putting together of the pieces of Brundage’s treasonous activities. It was nicely intricate and the resolution was satisfying.
I also really liked Hawkes. Unlike many romance heroes, he wasn’t a superman. His injury and his recovery from confinement and starvation in prison limited him and made him vulnerable, and to me that made him more believable than some of this author’s other heroes and all the more appealing for that. His struggle between his conflicting goals (he badly needed the money Brundage would pay him for bringing Aurelie to him yet he was falling for Aurelie) could have been made a little more suspenseful early on, but overall I was glad it wasn’t stretched too long. Aurelie was such a lamb in the woods that I would have liked him less if he had debated turning her over for long.
Jennie: It never really seemed to me that he would hand Aurelie over – even before he starts to fall for her, Hawkes is shown to be basically decent and he hates Brundage, so I thought he intended to screw him over all along.
Janine: I didn’t think he would either, but a sentence or two indicated he hadn’t decided. If Long intended to keep us guessing, she failed.
Jennie: I actually didn’t like Hawkes much at first, because I felt the first scene, with Brundage, set him up as what I call an “-est hero” – smartest, handsomest, bravest, etc. That establishing scene felt clumsily done, in that it mostly seems to be from Hawkes’ perspective but dwells a lot on the ways he’s superior to Brundage (for instance, noting he’d slept with a woman they both wanted at some point in the past). Hawkes felt very cardboard to me in that first scene and it took a bit for him to recover as a character for me.
Janine: It was an eye-rolling scene but I compared Hawkes to the hero of The Legend of Lyon Redmond. Hawkes got less superlative at everything much faster (Lyon never did, really) so I was able to reassess him quickly.
I liked Aurelie but less so. She was sympathetic and caring, but read as very young and very vulnerable, close to the ingenue who trembles in fear. This is not my favorite heroine type. I’ve loved some of Long’s very young heroines—Susannah in Beauty and the Spy, Violet in I Kissed an Earl, Genevieve in What I Did for a Duke—but Aurelie was a bit too timid.
Jennie: Oh, my gosh, we had opposite reactions to both of them! Because I liked Aurelie more, and felt like given her upbringing, she was way more resourceful and braver than she had any right to be. She *is* young, and when the age difference between her and Hawkes is finally concretely stated (she’s 21, he’s…35 I think?) it felt like a lot, especially given their different life experiences.
Janine: Much was made of her bravery but I only saw it in action when her maid said she’d bided her time before escaping Brundage. A decision she makes late in the book could arguably be seen as resourceful, but I was conflicted there.
She’d also have been better off to turn to Delilah or Angelique once or twice before that.
Jennie: I admired her for caring for Hawkes when he’s injured and ill, even though I recognized it as a set up to throw them together when he’s in a vulnerable spot.
Janine: I thought it was harebrained given how little sickroom experience she had relative to others present (Lucien knew how to stitch wounds and Delacorte sold health remedies). And Hawkes posed a danger to her reputation. She was pretending to be a widow but rumor could have reached Mr. Monroe, or even Boston. Hawkes could also have been unsafe; she knew nothing about him.
And yes, it was contrived—why would the others, especially Angelique and Delilah, who suspected Aurelie wasn’t a widow and whose policy disallowed men and women in the same room overnight, not say no?
Jennie: I really took this at face value from Aurelie’s point of view – she felt compelled to help Hawkes for reasons that defied logic.
As for Angelique and Delilah – well, I haven’t read all the books in the series – just four and five, and I’m actually reading the first book now – but I sense that they aren’t really the sticklers for proper behavior they present themselves to be.
Janine: No, but they are protective. And I think IRL someone would have pointed out that for Aurelie to nurse him wasn’t logical.
Jennie: I also felt Aurelie had a certain dignity in reaction to the incident that caused her to run away from Brundage in the first place.
Janine: Yes, her dignity was good. As I say, I liked her, I just didn’t love her.
Janine: The impression Aurelie made on me caused me to view the relationship as a bit unbalanced. One thing I love in coming-of-age romances is how the heroine has to grow up for the relationship to be stronger and more equal (What I Did for a Duke is a stellar example). I never saw that here. I felt Hawkes would always be a teacher in their relationship.
Jennie: Fair. I don’t know how much she would ever be able to be his equal given their age and life experience differences, though. (Though I thought Aurelie had at least seen her share of sorrow given her experiences during the French Revolution.)
Janine: Many of Long’s heroines are just as young and face similar age/experience gaps, yet growth brings them closer to being the hero’s equal. And I’m only dinging the romance here, not Aurelie. I prefer couples to be on more equal footing by the end (in terms of the sum of the strengths and weaknesses they bring to their relationship, which are obviously different). It’s more romantic and appealing to me.
An additional issue was the pacing; the book was slowed by how long it took them to meet. They didn’t begin their first conversation until 33% through. I got bored with all that setup.
Jennie: I felt the same when I realized I was at the 40% point and they’d just had their first real conversation. That’s a lot of set-up.
Janine: The latter two-thirds were paced better, but still had some unevenness. Their internal monologues about the other person and their growing feelings felt lengthy.
I was left with questions about things that didn’t make sense.
Why didn’t Brundage tell the owners of the necklace it was lost and reimburse them? It would have resolved some of the risk to himself.
Jennie: Did he have money troubles? I don’t recall.
Janine: Possibly, but if so, how did he plan to pay Hawkes, or to purchase the necklace if Aurelie liked it?
Jennie: The necklace part didn’t make a lot of sense. Later in the story Aurelie is thinking to pawn it in a relatively small town or village, and I just imagined her presenting this apparently really expensive necklace to some village pawnbroker, who probably could only pay a fraction of a cent on the dollar for it. I realized Aurelie was desperate, but it just struck me as funny/odd.
Janine: Yes! That was another thing that made me feel that Hawkes’s awe was misplaced.
Jennie: This was yet another moment where I could not say if Aurelie was naïve, desperate, or some combination of the two.
(And now that I think of it – I won’t blame this on Aurelie because it seems like an author issue – it made no sense that Aurelie took a very valuable necklace that probably was worth way more than she needed to travel to America, rather than pawning or taking some of her own possessions. She had no jewels? Didn’t she have valuable dresses? It’s not like she fled in the night and the necklace was just snatched in desperation. In summary, everything about the necklace subplot was kind of dumb.)
Janine: Another question: Why was Hawkes released after only three years in prison rather than executed? It didn’t make sense—supposedly the French preferred his fortune, but if his fortune was in France (and it seems like it would have been—he’d lived there for years), they could have confiscated it and executed him. If he bribed them by transferring it from England, they still could have imprisoned him for life.
Jennie: Agreed, and the more I think of it the less sense it makes. I didn’t think so much about him being released – I could write that off as post-war diplomacy of some kind – but the reason for imprisonment rather than execution made no sense. I had the opposite assumption about his fortune – since he was a spy, I assumed her would make sure that it was squirreled away in England in case he had to make a quick escape. So I didn’t understand why the French would even have access to it.
Janine: Also, how did the general public know Hawkes was a spymaster? Governments deny intelligence activities when spies are captured and prosecuted. I can’t imagine Hawkes would have confirmed it either—that would be a betrayal of all he stood for. And I doubt it would have gotten much attention in newspapers since he was undercover as Brundage’s chargé d’affaires.
Additionally, there were silly anachronisms. They weren’t germane to the plot, so why they were included? For example, a reference to young ladies being afflicted with Latin lessons in the schoolroom. Um, no. The education of young women of the upper classes was usually spotty; many were woefully ignorant. If Aurelie had been an exception it would have made a lot more sense.
Jennie: I noticed the bit about the Latin lessons too – without any expertise in this area, that struck me as wrong.
Janine: I had a lot of issues, but there were things I liked. This isn’t a bad book, really. I won’t reread it, but it was a decent way to pass the time.
Jennie: I feel the same. I was a bit disappointed because I liked the fourth book in the series a lot more. What would you grade it, Janine? It was a B- for me.
Janine: I’ve gone back and forth on it but I think maybe a C+.