TW: contains child abuse and mentions of rape.
I’m generally not a gushy person but I don’t think I can’t write a review for this book that’s not mostly incoherent gushing. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and charming read. Which is surprising, because I expected to find this book mediocre at best, but maybe I should just admit to the fact that I am horrible at judging books based on their cover and just be happy I picked this up.
Backstory: I mostly read m/m romance or mystery novels with romance as a subplot and the 19th century is my poison of choice. At some point I got curious as to how m/f romance would compare. I chose this book more or less at random, because the fake/convenient engagement is one of my favourite tropes. Plus I wanted to figure out what’s the deal with those rakes I keep seeing bandied about and who make me want to crack jokes about gardening. So I got through the first couple of uneventful chapters introducing the heroine and then got to the meet-cutie part. And then I was hooked. I couldn’t put the book down until I was halfway through it, and even then only because it was ridiculously late. I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh so much. (Know Not Why, maybe, back in 2012.)
Prudence is a fantastic heroine. I loved her ever since the dressmaker described her as “a leetle pony”. She doesn’t take any shit from anyone and she gets things done. Gideon has a stupid name and is so stupidly in love it’s ridiculous, I completely share his cousin’s amusement at the situation. But he’s witty, he’s got some of the funniest lines in the whole book (do you think you could marry me if I shaved?) so I can forgive him anything. I think lighthearted scenes with lots of dialogue is where this book really shines, because it’s funny and an easy read and doesn’t try to take itself seriously. Probably my favourite bits are when the book pokes fun at traditional romance tropes, like Prue’s reaction to Gideon spouting inane compliments:
“Have I told you how lovely you look tonight in that sage gown? It brings out the glorious color of your hair and makes me imagine that I could drown in the crystal depths of your eyes, quite happily.”
“Yes. But I think you talk a lot of nonsense.”
Or when they cracked a joke about rakes and gardening. I laughed forever at that one. But yeah, the thing about Prue is that she’s a good heroine. She feels like a real person, acts like a person would act in her circumstances. I can see her, eyerolling at the stupidity of what Gideon is saying, while being secretly pleased and flustered at being complimented, no matter how cringe-worthy the simile. And I like that there was no insta-love (…much) and they got to know each other properly before getting hitched, and then they got hitched and lived happily ever after yes good.
Ok, gushing’s done, now for the things that I found meh. The tragic backstory is, well, tragic, and I think overall I liked the first half of the book better because towards the end there was just too much drama. I would have liked it better if the final confrontation had centered around Prue’s long-lost fiancé instead of bringing back Evil Grandpa. Speaking of: it’s like every single person in Prue’s past was an asshole. Lots of black and white morality too, people from Prue’s past are evil, the people she meets in the book are good; and the evil people are really evil and act like total douchebags and make me want to kick them in the head, while the good people are sweet and caring and helpful. At least there’s Prue, who has no qualms about piling on lie after lie to protect her sisters. Prue’s probably 70% of the reasons I liked this book so much.
Overall, I think I’m ruined for this genre forever because it’ll be hard to find more books to match this one. Or maybe historical m/f romances are the best genre ever and every book is awesome and I just didn’t know until now, we’ll have to see.