REVIEW: The Second Seduction of a Lady by Miranda Neville
Dear Ms. Neville,
I’ve enjoyed all four books in your Burgundy Club series so when I heard you were starting a new series and putting out a prequel novella, I snapped it up from Edelweiss. Set in the English countryside in 1793, The Second Seduction of a Lady is a story of reunited lovers.
The novella begins with Austen-style omniscient narration which tells the reader that Eleanor Hardwick’s record for common sense is nearly unblemished. The one blemish, as it turns out, is Max Quinton. Eleanor has never believed in marriage nor intended to marry, but when she was twenty-five, Eleanor’s conviction slipped.
Max Quinton turned out to be a cad, and Eleanor found out before she married him – but not before she’d given him her “virtue.” While Max sent her letters pleading his case, Eleanor waited to see if pregnancy would force her to marry him. Thankfully, it didn’t, and Eleanor returned his letters unopened.
Max and Eleanor meet again when she is visiting her delightful seventeen year old cousin Caro, as well Caro’s unpleasant mother and brother. Max is the guardian of the young heir to the neighboring estate, Robert, and Robert is about to reach his majority.
After a brief, cold, wet greeting from Eleanor on a riverbank, Max resolves to win back her affections. He fell in love with Eleanor five years ago and never got over her loss. As Max engineers meetings with Eleanor, affording Robert and Caro opportunities to fall into infatuation, the story of Eleanor and Max’s first meeting is told in flashbacks.
Max knows he screwed up back then, but he wants another chance with Eleanor. And the more time Eleanor spends with Max, the more she questions whether she was right to be so unforgiving. Meanwhile, Caro and Robert get closer than is wise, and Max is not exactly blameless for that. Will Eleanor, a woman set against marriage, find it in her heart not only to forgive him, but to accept his suit?
The Second Seduction of a Lady has a less humorous and more serious tone than most of your books, and reminded me of the 1990s traditional regencies published by Signet. Those little red books frequently had countryside settings, lovers parted by misunderstanding or an interfering third party, and occasionally, a punishing kiss, all of which can be found here. The heroines sometimes felt a bit starchy, and that description fits Eleanor, too.
Though there were Signet regencies I loved, more often I liked those books mildly. Many of them were a pleasant way to pass the time. I had a similar experience with The Second Seduction of a Lady.
The novella gives a charming depiction of a countryside neighborhood and several nice touches in side characters who bring that milieu to life. It also contains sex scenes, unlike most trad regencies. Perhaps because these are shown in the less-experienced heroine’s POV, the sex scenes contained some awkward descriptions of body parts, such as “the core he has once filled.” There was also some conflation (to borrow a word from Janet/Robin) of love and sex that didn’t thrill me.
I’ve written in the past about how much I enjoy your writing style and especially your characterization. There is typically a genuine warmth and vulnerability to your characters that makes them appeal to me in a way that feels very natural. But I didn’t connect with Eleanor and Max to the same degree.
I said before that Eleanor could seem a bit starchy at times. Her views on marriage seemed rigid to me, too. While we were told early on that her parents were ill-suited to one another and their marriage made Eleanor’s mother unhappy, I think I needed her mother’s unhappiness and Eleanor’s role in observing it or responding to it as a child to be shown or discussed in greater depth for me to understand why Eleanor was so set against marriage.
Max was a livelier character than Eleanor, but I had an issue with him as well. While Eleanor described herself as “managing” I saw Max as much more managing since he engineered situations more than once. There were times he behaved in a manipulative or high-handed fashion where Eleanor was concerned.
[spoiler]For example, when Max and Eleanor pursue Robert and Caro who have eloped to Gretna Green, Max lets it be known that he and Eleanor also plan to marry, even though Eleanor has not agreed to marry him. This willingness to entrap Eleanor did not sit well with me.
I understand intellectually that Max was devastated to lose Eleanor five years before, but if this was the reason for his high-handedness, I wish I had been made to feel the pain that loss brought him more. Furthermore, I wanted him to understand that what he’d done was wrong. In some cases he did understand his mistakes, took responsibility for them, and apologized, but not in all instances.
With both these characters, I wanted more of the vulnerability you usually depict so well. But they both had likeable qualities too. Eleanor loved her large family and looked out for Caro. She had a quirky love for fashionable hats and a softness that emerged when Max got closer to her. Max had charm and evident competence. He was also devoted to Eleanor in his heart.
I read this novella pretty fast, and toward the end, I even got a little emotional. There were some clever turns of phrase, too. I missed the humor that characterizes your books, but the writing itself was mostly good and the story readable. I’m giving it a C.
I loved Miranda Neville’s last release and was excited for this novella but ultimately ended up disappointed. I couldn’t relate to Eleanor at all for some reason, and I find when that happens the book is a loss. I agree with you about the writing and it was really interesting reading the excerpt from the next release because it was written in much less formal language (or appeared that way to me).
@Bronte: I found Eleanor harder to relate to than Neville’s other heroines as well. Her views on marriage came across as rigid because the motive behind them wasn’t clear enough. We knew her parents had a bad marriage but for me it was more like knowing a fact than like experiencing the pain of that marriage for Eleanor’s mother and for Eleanor herself. Perhaps this was due to the constraints of the novella-length format? I don’t know, but I felt I needed more insight into both Eleanor and Max.
I also agree that the language in Neville’s upcoming novel, The Importance of Being Wicked has a different feel to it. For me the language in The Secret Seduction of a Lady was mostly good but a touch stiff (perhaps I should have said that in my review) and in The Importance of Being Wicked it felt more flowing.
Jennie and I are putting together a long and juicy joint review of The Importance of Being Wicked right now. I was a little worried, after reading this novella, that I might have similar issues with the novel, but instead it turned out to be one of my favorite Nevilles.
I think I liked this more than you. I did like both Max and Eleanor and enjoyed their romance. BUT I was intensely frustrated to find that the book ended at 60% on my kindle. I was hoping for a lot more and then disappointed to find it was done. I find it irritating when books end at 80% or 90% but 60% is ridiculous.
@Ros: I think I would have liked the characters and storyline better if I hadn’t encountered a lot of similar ones in Signet’s 1990s trad regencies. They weren’t unlikable, but they also didn’t feel as fresh to me as Neville’s plots and characters usually do.
That’s a good point about the book ending at 60%. I looked at the table of contents and it gave me that sense, so then I used the Kindle’s search feature to find the excerpt and see where it started. Then I mentally prepared myself for the fact that the story would end substantially before the end of the text.
I shouldn’t have to do all that but after my experience with the Once Upon a Ballroom antho, I’ve decided that it’s good policy to pay more attention to tables of contents than I have in the past.
I liked Eleanor more than you did; if anything, I was disappointed that her vision of spinsterhood had to be undercut to make the romance work. I loved the idea of a self-sufficient unmarried woman enjoying various nieces, nephews and godchildren. I know that when I was younger, I benefitted from relationships with unmarried female relatives and friends of the family, and my kids have a terrific relationship with their childless aunts. It made me a little sad when Eleanore realized that what she really wanted was a child of her own. I was hoping for a less conventional resolution.
@SonomaLass: You’re right, a less conventional resolution would have been better. And to clarify, it wasn’t Eleanor’s attitude toward marrying that bothered me, but rather her attitude toward marriage, including other people’s marriages. I can understand choosing not to marry for oneself far better than I can deciding that marriage just plain isn’t worth it for others, as well. It was the latter that I needed a better motive for.
I have very few autobuy authors, but Miranda Neville is one of them. I’m excited that she’s got a new series coming, so needless to say, I just bought this, despite the so-so review. I will say that her last two novels haven’t been my favorites. Confessions from an Arranged Marriage especially didn’t do anything for me. But, I believe in her as a writer, so I’m going to give the new stuff a try.
I’m very fond of Confessions from an Arranged Marriage, so it sounds like we have different tastes in her books. That being the case, this novella may appeal to you more than it did to me.
I keep meaning to try Neville but because she writes in a series, I feel like I have to go backward and read one of the first ones. Is that true?
@Jane: Her November book, The Importance of Being Wicked, is the start of a brand new series. I would recommend starting there (as much as I like the Burgundy Club books, I think The Importance is a little stronger and I’m really excited about this new series). You could start with this prequel novella also, but it’s really not necessary read it first, and I think the novel is much better.
ETA: The Burgundy Club books don’t have to be read exactly in order either but I would read the second (The Dangerous Viscount) before the fourth (Confessions from an Arranged Marriage). Also, apologies for all the typos (now mostly fixed) I made in this post!