by Adrienne Basso, historical (2001)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-6987-1
To Wed A Viscount is a great surprise. I took a first look at the cash-in-on-Julia-Quinn title and the snob inside of me goes all "Hey, this looks just like a mediocre romance". The premise sounds like a completely mediocre drama too, complete with what promises to be a ditsy, guilt-ridden pushover heroine and the usual rake hero.
Boy, was I wrong. Sure, the premise and characters are familiar, but author Adrienne Basso manages to weave everything together in a delightful mix.
Griffin Sainthill, the younger son of a Viscount, has always preferred the free life of a seafaring ship captain in America. But his life comes to a halt when he receives news that his brother Neville is gone and he is the new Viscount Dewhurst. And when he discovers that he has sired a son, especially when the son's mother was dead and the boy was being ill-treated, he decides to take the boy home with him to England. For his son's sake if nothing else, he'll be a Viscount.
In England, Faith Linden has her own problem. Even since she was a teenager, she was bonded to Neville, Griffin's brother, in a marriage contract. She was sure she loved Neville, and they would have a great marriage, but Neville kept stringing her along and along. Months turned to years and next thing she knows, he's dead and she is now stuck in her father's ill-advised attempt to make Neville marry her. The old man had a will drawn up that she will lose her home to a nasty relative if she doesn't marry a Viscount Dewhurst. The old man meant Neville, of course, but now that Neville is playing harps among the clouds, Faith has to marry the next Viscount in line.
She charges into Griff's house and proposes marriage, along the way inadvertently letting Griff believe that Neville has ruined her. So he marries her, and his sister Harriet is not at all happy and vows to cause problems. Then Griff discovers that Faith is still a virgin and...
Okay, the smelly stuff doesn't spill over the chamber pot. This story could have been a train wreck of big misunderstandings and psychopathic evil women antics galore, but Ms Basso avoids all the messy bloodletting. Faith and Griff talk. See, she tells him that she has been trying to tell him all along that she's not ruined that way. And Griff, after the obligatory brief macho huff-puffing, sits down and thinks back - yes, she did try, but he never listened. He's listening now. Harriet, the potential nutcase sister, turns out to be a human being after all, and she even becomes Faith's friend and supporter at the end. This is a character-driven novel, in a sense, where the heroine's nice male friend doesn't turn out a berserk psycho villain that will kidnap her at the end. It's mostly a story about Faith and Griff coming to terms with their relationship.
I like Faith. She's a moral woman, but she doesn't overdo the Joan of Arc thing, never letting Harriet or anyone else bully or cow her. Likewise, Griff starts out a silly arrogant jerk, but he thaws wonderfully, and when he defends his wife from her critics in a no-holds-barred way, I am won. I like the way these two bond over friendship as much as mutual lust. Even the mushy last chapter make me smile instead of cringing, because these two are so nice and right together.
I do have some quibbles though. The out-of-the-blue conflict towards the end regarding Griff's son seems rushed and not well-done. And I'm still wondering how exactly is Griff's relationship with his brother and father. He never seemed to mourn Neville. In a way, his past remains sketchy, and I wish I know more, because that way I may appreciate his initial blustery arrogant self better.
Still, this is a fine, nice novel. Griff and Faith are two of the nicest, human characters I've read recently, and this story hits all my right spots - just what I need for a good, lift-me-up read.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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