REVIEW: That Sweet Enemy by Marjorie May (aka Dinah Dean)
Mary Burns is travelling through Europe with her friends when war resumes between Britain and France in 1803 and Napoleon orders the arrest of all British subjects on French territory. Their fate is to be decided by Captain Armand Dufour, who has bitter personal reasons for taking vengeance on the English. He offers safe passes for the whole party—on condition that Mary remains behind as his wife. With internment as the alternative, what choice has she? Yet cold, sarcastic and disfigured as he is, she finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Captain. If her situation really is so terrible, why does she fail to take advantage of the opportunities to escape?
This is one of the books that Dinah Dean published under another name and it’s wonderful. It’s also one of the more unusual trad regencies I’ve read in that the hero is a French Army officer, it takes place in France and Switzerland, and is set in 1803 during the brief Peace of Amiens. It’s also, unfortunately, challenging to find as there is no digital edition nor is it in print.
Mary Burns and some traveling companions are stuck in Soleure, Switzerland which has been annexed by the French under Napoleon. Their fate, being released to travel to Germany and on to England or being interred for the remainder of the war, is in the hands of Captain Armand Dufour. Dufour had been a prisoner of war in England in 1799 and has excellent reasons to hate the English. Hate them with a passion.
After he spends a great deal of time questioning all of them (and he does appear to be making an effort to be fair about it), he eventually offers Mary, who speaks French and has been acting as a translator for his interrogations of her party, a choice. Marry him and stay behind after her party leaves for Germany or they will all be interred for the rest of the war. Mary has heard his story, how he was hideously scarred and wounded, and knows that he is using her for revenge but in the end has little choice but to marry this withdrawn, cold man.
So begins their marriage of revenge. Mary is alone in a strange place, among the enemy and married to one and has to make the best of what she has. She’s never been the type to declare that she will marry for love or not at all. She had actually thought about the growing attentions of one of the English party and had decided if he asked her, she would probably marry him even if just because she had few other prospects and didn’t want to be an old maid. But in all honesty, after she met Dufour, her thoughts had turned more towards him than the wan and declining young Englishman.
One thing she can’t quite figure out is her husband. He talks very little to her but is always courteous if a little cold. He gives her the run of the town and says she can leave for day trips if she wants but where could she run if she tried to leave? She knows he married her for revenge but he treats her well. He’s almost two people, the polite man of the day and then the silent lover at night. Which one is he really? And what are her real feelings for him becoming?
On reading this book again, I’ve decided that as nice as Mary is, she is definitely written as a sheltered young woman who has lived most of her life in a small town. In fact, that was given as the reason she was traveling through Europe – to broaden her horizons. They got broadened all right. Yet Armand is the character who intrigued me most this time. He has a dry, wicked sense of humor yet is also a man who, despite his disabilities, sees to the welfare of not only Mary (in so many little ways) but also his men. His fellow officers like him, look up to him, and respect his opinion. Mary might not initially be able to get behind the cool mask he wears to hide his emotions but he’s got good reason to stay withdrawn.
I loved this book but it does have its flaws. It’s told in the exclusive POV of the heroine but we get hints of the feelings of the others. There is a touch of a “Jane Eyre” ending but it’s not overboard. It’s also a quieter, more old fashioned type of writing style. Dean can correctly be compared to Sheila Bishop and some of the 70’s/early 80’s style regency authors. Armand is about as tortured as they come and Mary acts, thinks, and knows about life as a woman of her time would. It’s pretty obvious to the reader how Armand feels about her but she can be a bit clueless at times mainly because she has had so little exposure to men courting her. There is also a non-con (never repeated) wedding night from hell that seems to be a bit more realistic then these multi-orgasmic virgins of historical regency fame. Overall I’d give it a qualified B+.