The Marrying Season by Candace Camp

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Genevieve Stafford, the younger sister of the Earl of Rawdon (A Summer Seduction), is an icy but beautiful aristocrat. Determined to make the sort of marital alliance expected of a woman of her station, she becomes engaged to the scion of another noble family. However, when Genevieve finds herself entangled in scandal, her fiancé breaks things off. Shamed, she has no recourse but to retreat to the family estate…until her brother’s friend, Sir Myles Thorwood, offers to marry Genevieve and salvage her reputation.

Genevieve expects to have a loveless marriage of convenience, but the handsome, charming Myles has other things in mind. As the two of them work to discover who engineered the scandal that could have ruined Genevieve’s life, Myles shows Genevieve just what it means to be man and wife. Genevieve finds it difficult to resist the passion Myles evokes in her, but can she risk losing her heart to a man she thinks sees their union as only a duty?

Rating: C

Genevieve Stafford has a reputation as an ice queen. Her behaviour and reputation are impeccable and she has been tutored by her formidable grandmother into being everything a proper young lady of good breeding should be. She has had plenty of admirers, but none of them have incited her interest and Genevieve herself has come to believe that she is cold and not made for love.

At her brother’s wedding (I believe his story was told in the previous book in the series), she is told the story of the Legend of St. Dwynwen, and how a maiden who prays at her shrine will soon find love. Genevieve scoffs – but, beginning to worry about the prospect of having to spend the rest of her life without a husband, sneaks off to the shrine and – hey presto! – her prayers are answered and she becomes betrothed to the handsome (albeit rather stuffy) Lord Dursford.

The action skips forward several months to another ball, but this one has disastrous consequences for Genevieve when she is all-but assaulted by a drunken guest; but this being the 1800s, it’s Genevieve who is judged to be at fault and her reputation is left in tatters. There’s only one course of action which will help to re-establish her in the eyes of society; she must be married, and quickly. Of course, the drunkard who groped her is not a suitable husband for her, but Sir Myles Thorwood, a long-time friend of her family, steps in and offers her his hand. Genevieve is most reluctant to accept, knowing he’s offering for her only out of duty and concern, but is quickly brought to see that she has no other option than to marry him.

Genevieve and Myles have known each other all their lives, and are friends – even though they are constantly bickering and sniping at each other. But it’s all good-natured for the most part, and for me, the couple who bickers together is the one that usually stays together, and I always enjoy a spot of light-hearted banter.

The first half of the book is really quite appealing. It wouldn’t win any prizes for originality, but Myles – in particular – is a very attractive character, and he sets out to woo his wife with a mixture of humour, attentiveness and charm. Genevieve is delighted to discover that her grandmother’s warning about the pain involved in marital duties was complete tosh, and is beginning to discover that she is not so much of an ice-maiden as she had feared.

But at around the half-way mark, the story suddenly veered off track, and what had begun as a charming friends-to-lovers/compromised-into-marriage romance (incidentally, two of my favourite tropes in the genre) turned into a mess of misunderstandings and a sometimes unpleasant battle of wills.

It all starts when Myles discovers that the reason Genevieve had been alone in the library on the night of the ball during which she was compromised was because she had received a note – purportedly from him – to meet him there. Myles’ reaction to the fact that she hadn’t mentioned it (why would she, if she thought he knew because he’d sent the note?) is completely over the top as he accuses her of thinking that he would be so careless with her reputation as to arrange a secret assignation. From then on, the temperature between them very quickly drops to below zero. In a fit of anger about the fact that Genevieve establishes a separate bedroom for herself in their townhouse – it isn’t the done thing for husbands and wives of the ton to share a bed, and Genevieve was always a stickler for propriety – Myles says some nasty things, accuses her of being cold, and storms off.

Genevieve is horrified, and starts to retreat into her shell of impeccable propriety in an attempt to stop herself from being hurt; she reminds herself that Myles only married her to save her reputation and thinks he doesn’t care for her.

Added into this is the fact that Genevieve continues to be the subject of scandal-sheet gossip. Someone is intent on ruining her reputation – but who? Myles and Genevieve’s brother Alec set out to find who it is – at which point Genevieve bawls them out for not letting her tag along and making decisions for her. I found that her attitude stretched my credibility a bit too far. On the one hand, she’s concerned about what is and isn’t done, but on the other, wants to go chasing off into the less salubrious parts of London on a man-hunt. Some of Genevieve’s other actions – like chasing a maid through the streets – don’t fit with her character as it’s been established. She also has this idea that Myles is insisting she “submit” to him by “giving up” her sense of self as Genevieve Stafford – but I have no idea why she should be thinking that. Myles is a pretty easy-going chap who just wants his wife to be a wife, and while he said some hurtful things in the heat of anger for which he tries repeatedly to apologise, Genevieve has thrown up her barriers and won’t let him in.

The dénouement, when it comes, happens pretty quickly, when the identity of the person who has been providing the scandal-sheet with gossip is identified (although it’s been fairly obvious who it is for some time), and with Myles and Genevieve declaring their love for each other on practically the last page.

Overall, I get the impression that there wasn’t enough material in The Marrying Season to sustain a full-length novel. The first half, as I’ve said, was charming, and had it been a novella that concentrated on the coming together of these two friends and turning them into lovers, it could have been quite a satisfying read. But the second half felt like so much padding.

The characterisation of the heroine was probably the strongest of all the characters. Most of the story is seen from her point-of-view, so the reader is able to discover that she is actually quite insecure and uses her icy exterior to protect herself from hurt. Myles is less well-developed, however. He’s pleasant enough – handsome, charming and everything you’d expect in a romantic hero, but as so little of the story is seen through his eyes, it’s harder to get inside his head. As a result, he comes across as little more than a congenial man who is miffed because his wife won’t sleep with him!

All in all, this isn’t a book I’d probably read again, although it was pleasant enough in parts to pass the time.

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