REVIEW: An Unexpected Gentleman by Alissa Johnson
Dear Ms. Johnson,
I haven’t read too many regencies lately because they were all beginning to smear together in a Duke/spy/fiesty heroine filled blur. I had Regency ennui. When I started this book, I kind of got the feeling that it was part of a series but nonetheless, I took the plunge and dove in. I also decided not to seek out any other reviews of your previous books so that nothing would cloud my judgement or color my view. After finishing it, I can understand the variety of grades as some aspects worked for me while others were tired retreads.
Adelaide Ward never wanted to be the head of her little family – was never trained for it – but after the death of her parents and her younger brother is imprisonment for crushing debt, she has little choice. At twenty-seven, she’s not looking for romance or passion. All she wants is a respectable marriage to a man who can support her and hopefully pony up enough money for her younger sister to have a Season, help pay off her brother’s debts and take care of his son, her little nephew George. She thinks she’s found the man in Lord Robert Maxwell, (incorrectly called Sir Robert on the back blurb) a Baron of modest means but means enough for Adelaide. She’s positive he’ll come up to scratch at the house party they’re both attending – at least she prays he will as time and her modest funds are running out.
But fate has something different in store for Adelaide in the form of Connor Brice who suddenly appears on the scene and gently romances Adelaide before deliberately compromising her. Now Adelaide finds herself with two suitors and two proposals though it’s looking like they both see her more as a bone to be fought over because of a private feud rather than a bride to be won. Connor and Robert have a long and bitter history which Adelaide painfully discovers as each attempts to sway her his way. Connor sweeps all before him and wins Adelaide’s hand in marriage but can he possibly win her trust after all the half truths he’s told or allow himself to focus on love instead of revenge?
I’ve read tons of Regency historicals and revenge plots aren’t my favorite so why did I start and keep reading “An Unexpected Gentleman?” Adelaide, that’s why. I have a thing for the quiet, unobtrusive heroine who isn’t The Most Beautiful, or The Most Outrageous, or The Most Fill in the Blank. I like a practical heroine who doesn’t expect a Grand Romance but who gets one anyway. And if she isn’t physically transformed from the brown wren she starts out as, so much the better. Adelaide might be the practical one, and she does this well, but she doesn’t want to martyr herself either. Yes, she does need to marry either Robert or Connor a) for the money, b) because Society demands it and c) because her younger sister’s chances would be ruined if she didn’t but Adelaide doesn’t rush nor allow either man to force her choice. In the end, the choice is fairly obvious but Adelaide still gets to make it. And she stands up for herself after marriage. She doesn’t cut her nose off to spite her face, she attempts to make the best of it, she goes for what she wants and is the first to lay it on the line. Adelaide is truly the stronger of the two, IMO, and she is the one I’m rooting for to get a HEA.
Now Connor has been dealt a raw deal by Robert and I can understand his driving need for revenge. What salvages the revenge plot for me is that Connor already has feelings for Adelaide even before he incorporates her into his plans. He’s not willing to call his emotions love yet but he doesn’t plan on making her life miserable just to get back at someone else. In fact, he wants to spoil her, wants to take away the burdens she’s been laboring under and wants to take on her family obligations. He’s not an asshole. He also comes to his senses about who and what is more important to him and I can almost see the pieces falling into place in his head and heart as the penny drops. He’s the one who has the furthest character arc distance to travel yet I do feel that he has accomplished this by the end.
Though this is the third (?) book in the series, I didn’t feel lost nor that the previous heroes and heroines were trying to shill their past books. There is a realistic family dynamic that ends the book which some people might not like but that I’d rather see occasionally instead of forced happy bunnies and rainbows reunions. Anything else would have diluted what went before. However I do wish that the final scene with the villain isn’t something I saw coming a mile away based on having read it so many times before. A heroine I enjoy watching get her HEA, a hero who isn’t a Duke – oh, thank God, and nary a spy in sight. Looks like there are a few single title Regencies I can manage to finish after all. B
This is the second book. The first is Nearly a Lady
She does have a previous series, Providence, which contains 4 books: As Luck Would Have It, Tempting Fate, McAllistair’s Fortune, and Destined to Last.. As far as I know the two series do not connect though.
@library addict: Ah, I was guessing that the Marchioness and her sister had each had her own book. Did they both find their HEA in the same one then?
Oh I’ve had this in my TBR pile and I don’t even know why – historical romance isn’t my thing!
I’m glad you liked it. I’ll go and put in my order now, even if “Adelaide” for a heroine’s name is difficult for an Australian to read (it’s one of our biggest cities, and also the name of the cheapest wine in the country!).
@Sonya Natalia: LOL, there are plenty of times during the book when I think Adelaide would love to have kicked back with some cheap plonk to soothe her soul.
I suspect that the publisher, editor and author weren’t thinking about potential Australian or UK readers. The name “Robert Maxwell” makes me think of a notorious newspaper proprietor who died in mysterious circumstances.
Great review! I had this in my TBR stack and was wondering. I generally enjoy AJ’s books, as her heroines and/or heroes are seldom the archetype of most regency novels. What I really enjoy about her books are the dialogs between the characters.
@Jayne: I haven’t actually read Nearly a Lady yet so I don’t know.
I had planned to read both books back-to-back over the holidays. Unfortunately, An Unexpected Gentleman is one of the books I purchased at Kobo and there is an issue with all of the italics words and phrases. They sent me an email stating they were aware of the issue and I would receive the purchase price back in store credit. But that was back on Dec 13th and I am still waiting. I know it’s only $7.99, but I don’t want to “repurchase” the book at Sony or somewhere else until I know for sure if Kobo will be giving me a refund. Only because there’s a small chance Kobo will instead fix the file.
@library addict: Hey $7.99 is $7.99 and I wouldn’t want to spend it again if I didn’t have to. Hope Kobo straightens it out for you soon.
I wonder if Robert might have started out as a Baronet then got lordified.at some point in the writing/editing process? I think he would be Lord Maxwell or Baron Maxwell, not Lord Robert anything.
ETA: I was just commenting on this because I do wonder if authors write more diverse characters but publishers push for titles– as someone once observed to me as we were browsing a library sale together– “I just love those books about old times when everyone was lords and ladies.” I have long ago given up on American authors getting forms of address correct.
@DS: I’m sure that’s probably what happened. I read an arc so this might have been fixed on the finished copy.
This sounds good to me. I’m fond of revenge plots and stories where the balance of power between the hero and heroine shifts in her favor (and this sounds like one of those) so I think there’s a good chance that I would enjoy it.
I just read this one as well. I thought it was pretty good, but I think the “tired retreads” you mentioned bothered me a lot more. I liked the heroine immensely but I got really annoyed with her naivete about sex and the whole compromised heroine aspect. So so tired of virgin heroines.
What a helpful review. I absolutely loved Johnson’s “Destined to Last” and her short story in a Christmas anthology a few years ago. I think she does sweet courtships really well. Her new books have been lingering on my “to buy” pile since she switched from Kensington to Berkley but this was the push I needed to get back into her. Off to Amazon now.
I liked “Nearly a Lady”, the prior book. Winnefred has one of the Best Lines Ever in a romance novel. The hero (who is a sweetheart but nonetheless a man of his times) implies that a woman loses her virtue if she loses her virginity outside marriage. Winnefred replies that she has many virtues, and none of them are to be found between her legs. Got to love her for this line alone.
I also liked “Tempting Fate” in Johnson’s earlier series. She takes the “hero and heroine at odds” trope and makes it fresh and funny. Whit and Mirabelle may snipe at each other, but they are not cruel and they are not stupid. And now that they are adults, they come to understand why they are all nerve endings around each other in a way that they could not when they were teenagers and hormones and self-centeredness and the general idiocy of the age got in the way.
@Susan/DC Tempting Fate sounds like my kind of book. Putting it on my TBR List
@Susan/DC: OMG, that line should be bronzed. Thanks for mentioning it. I’ll have to look for this book.
Sounds wonderful — I put it on my wishlist. I’m “ignoring” the fact that it’s in a series. I’m over-seried at the moment. Good Regencies — wish they weren’t so elusive.
I really liked Nearly A Lady and An Unexpected Gentleman. I read them in order, and both were enjoyable, but I preferred Nearly A Lady a bit more. I am interested in her earlier series. I love the simplicity and grace in her writing. Can’t wait until I have time to go to her backlist.
@Janet W: I think this one does fine as a stand alone – I hadn’t read “Nearly a Lady” before starting it and didn’t feel as if I were missing anything.
@Jayne: I just finished Nearly a Lady, and both Winnefred and Lilly do find their HEA in that book.