REVIEW: The Work of Art by Mimi Matthews
An Uncommon Beauty…
Hidden away in rural Devonshire, Phyllida Satterthwaite has always been considered more odd than beautiful. But in London, her oddity has made her a sensation. Far worse, it’s caught the eye of the sinister Duke of Moreland–a notorious art collector obsessed with acquiring one-of-a-kind treasures. To escape the duke’s clutches, she’s going to need a little help.
An Unlikely Hero…
Captain Arthur Heywood’s days of heroism are long past. Grievously injured in the Peninsular War, he can no longer walk unaided, let alone shoot a pistol. What use can he possibly be to a damsel in distress? He has nothing left to offer except his good name.
Can a marriage of convenience save Philly from the vengeful duke? Or will life with Arthur put her–and her heart–in more danger than ever?
Dear Ms. Matthews,
I decided to try this novel to see how you would write a Regency era setting. Plus I can’t resist a wounded hero who comes to the aid of his heroine. Arthur (and what a wonderful and apt first name for this hero) Heywood might think he’s a useless, washed up man who only knows how to speak in Gruff but in truth, he’s just waiting for his opportunity to shine – and save the day.
Phyllida Satterthwaite is lovely but has something of an Sleeping Beauty vibe to her. She’s lived a sheltered life, raised by her grandparents, deep in the countryside – basically she knows little of the machinations that people can get up to. When fate places her in the hands of a distant relative after the death of her grandfather, she’s brought to London with the understanding that she will be given a Season in which to make a match.
Arthur Heywood did his duty as a second son and fought for his country in the Peninsular Wars earning a reputation as cool under fire but also gaining lifelong wounds and injuries from which he will never fully recover. He is in London on business when he meets Miss Satterthwaite. He finds her thoughtful and considerate but thinks no more until the two talk a little and begin a friendship. Still, he’s prepared to leave town and her until Phyllida reaches out in desperation. Disturbing rumors have reached him and a gentleman can’t leave a young woman in danger. After his reckless offer of a marriage of convenience, can these two find a way to a future together as well as fend off a nebulous danger threatening Phyllida?
The title of “The Work of Art” and the descriptions of Philly’s (as she prefers to be called) beauty might predispose some readers to dislike her on principle but she’s a level headed, thoughtful young woman who doesn’t view herself as good looking. Her self effacing nature doesn’t come across as false modesty either. It doesn’t occur to her to question her new guardian or be difficult about her new life. When faced with a future she can’t tolerate – for good reasons – she does act rather then let herself be led to slaughter.
Arthur isn’t a glib charmer and never was even before his injuries. He’s taciturn by nature but he does know how to act in public. When Philly begs his assistance, what’s a man of (past) action to do? Jump right in and take charge, that’s what. Once he’s on board, he commits himself as I would expect a former military man to do and his campaign soon has them out of London but not – alas – free of danger.
The gothic suspense overtones are done well. Murky threats appear with just enough credence to keep Arthur worried and overprotective. It was the era when men took charge and had annoying tendencies to shield women without telling them the nature of what might be lurking. Yes, well that does come back to bite him. There’s a bit of PTSD (as if Arthur didn’t have enough war related issues) tacked on that seemed more rote than organic though.
I did like the slow way that the relationship between Philly and Arthur evolved. From friendship to a physical (mostly off screen) marriage (the convenience doesn’t last long) to a growing love, the story takes its time as we see Arthur not saying ILY but (typical man) doing almost everything to show his growing feelings. Philly knows where her heart lies but out of uncertainty of Arthur refrains from saying much. But I do like how they talk even before making their declarations.
The setting is well handled though I thought that marriages at this time still had to be conducted in a church even with a special license. Philly’s tenderhearted willingness to try and mend fences no matter what impressed me when she was facing up to a potential rival but I had to agree with Arthur in the end when Philly muses about what could have led the villain astray. No Philly – he was going to try and kill you. I also thought there might have been one attempt too many on her as the last one had me muttering “not again.” But I liked Philly’s strength without turning Regency Ninja and watching Arthur want to become a better man for her. B