Reader beware: I got this book at a giveaway hosted by The Good, The Bad and The Unread, where this review was originally published.
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What a Gentleman Wants, by Caroline Linden
First in the Reece family trilogy, What a Gentleman Wants tells the story of Marcus, Duke of Exeter, and Hannah Preston, a vicar’s widow from the country. This novel is a very entertaining variation on the twins-playing-each other plot device. What a Rogue Desires, David’s story, and A Rake’s Guide To Seduction, Celia’s story, follow it.
Back cover blurb:
Marcus Reece, Duke of Exeter, has spent most of his life pulling his twin brother out of trouble. An occasional thank you would suffice; instead, his resentful sibling forges his name to a marriage license and presents him with an unwanted wife. She’s a vicar’s widow with a mind of her own who may be the first person in Marcus’ well-ordered mind to make him feel… completely out of control.
Hannah can’t help but curse her own idiocy. Dire straits have led her to the altar with a gentleman she hardly knows. Played for a fool, she’s embarrassed, furious, and worse, married to an equally outraged stranger—an exasperating man who unleashes all manner of emotions in Hannah, not to mention unwanted desire. Reluctantly, she agrees to play the wife until he can sort out the mess. But the nearness of the undeniably attractive Duke and the passion in his black eyes unsettles her well-guarded heart—making her want to do so much more than “act” the role of blissful bride…
There are so many things I like about this book; the main characters Hannah and Marcus; Molly, Hannah’s child (probably most of all, because she’s neither too precious nor too precocious); the dialogue and the pacing. There are, sadly, a couple of things I didn’t like at all, but let’s start at the beginning.
David, younger than Marcus by all of ten minutes, spends most of his life getting into all sorts of scrapes, each one worse than the last. While he resents Marcus’ constant and timely interventions in his affairs—messy as they may be—David also relies on his brother to keep saving his… bacon. These two conflicting feelings combine to inspire David to his most outrageous escapade ever—motivated by the purest of intentions, of course.
By marrying Hannah, he’s helping her avoid going back to her father’s farm—an untenable situation at best, and a horrible future for Molly under any circumstances. By forging Marcus’ name, David is getting back at his brother (and acting like a surly teen in the process—getting back at his brother for what, exactly? For helping him every time he needs help? or for not helping him without upbraiding him afterwards? Childish either way.)
I really, really like Hannah’s inner dialogue regarding David’s proposal. Usually, the marriage of convenience is used as a rather contrived way of tossing the hero and heroine together and forcing them to interact. It can work, don’t get me wrong—in the right hands, it’s a thing of beauty. But Ms Linden goes one better, and instead of having only the circumstances—or other characters—force Hannah into it, she allows the reader to see how and why it would be the better choice for Hannah, a decision she can then make freely. Or as freely, I should say, as she can, for after all this is still the early 1800s, a time where women had little choice and less freedom.
Marcus, on the other hand, has a martyr streak a mile wide. He is unflaggingly willing to put himself out—to flat out sacrifice his relationship with his stepmother and sister—in order to continuously rescue David. This was irritating as hell and rang perfectly true (reader baggage: I personally know at least one person who could give Marcus a run for his money on this behaviour). It was both infuriating, as it is in real life, to see just how far Marcus would routinely go to preserve an illusion which in real life no one would actually believe true. Of course, this being a novel, we are given to understand that both Rosalind, their stepmother, and Celia, their half sister, have been blinkered into believing that David is not the wastrel the reader knows him to be.
In this book, the second of Ms Lindon’s and the first about the Exeter siblings, her characterization of the secondary characters is not as good as it is in her latest release, A Rake’s Guide to Seduction. In this one, Rosalind comes across a bit two dimensional for almost the entire run of the novel—the only scene where she came alive for me was near the end, when things come to a head and the scales are falling of off several characters’ eyes regarding David and Marcus. By the same token, in this book Celia seems more a place holder—or even a symbol—to explain some of Marcus’ motivations, than a character in her own right.
David’s character has two major, major swings, and every time it happened, it pulled me out of the story. In different scenes—a couple of which are supposedly separated by a matter of hours, perhaps a full day—he behaves like two completely different people. And while I perceive that I was supposed to see him rising to the occasion and showing his true character… well, I didn’t. I saw a plot device. Good mechanics, decent execution, but just… I didn’t believe it. The man who in the first few pages shows himself to be irresponsible, callous, cavalier, and sullen, a chapter later becomes a considerate and thoughtful individual given to introspection and generosity. The same man then changes back into a mischievous and resentful teenager (even though he’s 32 or so), only to change back into a courageous man willing to sacrifice his life—and not metaphorically either—to save others’.
Add to that the fact that the convoluted explanation he gives Marcus later in the novel, which should explain the major subplot in the story, is… well, let’s just say that Marcus himself has trouble believing that David could be dense enough to fall for what he’s saying he fell for. My incredulity matched Marcus’ here, but it grew even more when, just pages later, David is drawing accurate conclusions from rather sketchy information.
Hello, inconsistency! Enough, under most circumstances, to make me want to dislike the book.
On top of that, there’s a certain weakness in the plot—the manner in which Marcus reacts to Hannah, and his manipulation of her after Rosalind and Celia show up at his house, for example, though that is rescued by Hannah’s inner dialogue. Ms Linden relies a bit on the stereotypical villain, both in motivation and in characterization, and—as in the later book—the foreshadowing is both a tad heavy handed and unexpected because the character in question barely appears on the page until the final confrontation.
Still, it does come together well in the end, both regarding Hannah and Marcus’ relationship, and David’s imbroglio; plus the pacing and dialogue are good, and the tension between Hannah and Marcus is very well realized, which means I enjoyed this one—although definitely not as much as the third installment.
7.5 out 10