Noble Britton suffered greatly at the hands of his first wife, and he refuses to fall into the same trap again. This time he intends to marry a quiet, biddable woman who will not draw attention to herself or cause scandal. Gillian Leigh’s honest manner and spontaneous laughter attract him immediately. It matters little that she is accident-prone; he can provide the structure necessary to guide her.
But unconventional to the tips of her half-American toes, his new bride turns the tables on him, wreaking havoc on his orderly life. Perpetually one step behind his beguiling spouse, Noble suffers a banged-up head, a black eye, and a broken nose before he realizes Gillian has healed his soul and proven that their union is no heedless tumble, but the swoon of true love.
Rating: A- for narration, B for content
Noble Intentions is Book 1 in Katie MacAllister’s Noble Series with an original print publication date of 2005. It’s very much a “wallpaper” historical in that there isn’t an especially strong sense of time or place about it, other than in references to styles of dress and the odd convention of the day. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on one’s mood and listening preferences. I generally prefer to have a reasonable amount of historical accuracy in the historical romances I read and listen to, and I like those which include historical detail as part of the plot, but I’m also not averse to a piece of well-done romantic fluff, in which category Noble Intentions firmly belongs.
The heroine, Gillian Leigh, is half-English and half-American, and lives in London with her cousin’s family – I’m not sure why. Gillian possesses those traits which seem to be held by every American heroine I’ve read about in historical romance in that she is outspoken (having a sad propensity for voicing her most inappropriate thoughts aloud) and has a disregard for the proprieties with the sort of open natured good-heartedness not often displayed by her English counterparts. She is also severely accident-prone to such a degree I couldn’t help asking myself how she’d managed to live to the ripe old age of twenty-five!
Her tall, red-haired, Amazonian figure catches the eye of Noble Britton, Earl of Weston nicknamed “The Black Earl”, partly because he always wears black, but mostly because he is believed to have murdered his first wife. His standing in society is precarious but he is incredibly rich, which means that all but the highest sticklers will tolerate him. At the beginning of the story, Noble is on the lookout for a second wife, a well-born young woman of good birth and even temperament who will do as she’s told, give him heirs, and be a good mother to his young – but illegitimate – son, Nick.
Noble is captivated by Gillian, even though he already knows she is not a biddable young woman and determines to marry her without delay. For her part, Gillian has been attracted to The Black Earl since their first meeting, but is realistic enough to know that a gorgeous, wealthy Earl can look for much more in marriage than a modestly dowered American nobody. So when Noble asks for her hand, she cannot believe her good fortune.
They marry quickly, and Noble whisks Gillian away to his country estate. Following a passionate and more than satisfactory wedding night on both their parts, Gillian is astonished next morning when she discovers that Noble has returned immediately to London. She has no intention of being the sort of wife who sits meekly by waiting for her husband’s attentions, so, accompanied by Nick, she follows him. And being Gillian, she brings accident, injury, and misunderstanding with her, proceeds to thoroughly disrupt Noble’s ordered existence, gain the love and loyalty of his servants, and, more importantly, of both Nick and Noble.
The characterisation isn’t particularly deep, but that’s to be expected in a book which is, at its heart, a slapstick comedy. Gillian’s propensity for saying the wrong thing or causing chaos made it difficult to see her as a believable character and, while Noble is all the things one expects a romantic hero to be – handsome, sexy and a little bit dangerous, he rarely rises above the two-dimensional.
Noble Intentions is full of whacky humour which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, because there were a few occasions I felt the author was just trying TOO HARD to be funny. When it IS funny, however, it’s very funny, and I did find myself giggling a few times. When it doesn’t work, though, I found myself muttering “get on with it”, because the punchline or the elephant in the room was visible a mile off and waiting for it to arrive or be noticed was incredibly frustrating.
I’ve listened to a number of audiobooks narrated by Alison Larkin and each time, have felt that there’s something missing, something which isn’t quite gelling and which is preventing her from making my list of top romance narrators. One of my principal criticisms of her performances has been that her male characters haven’t always sounded masculine enough, but in everything else – such as her ability to differentiate between characters and to maintain a variety of different accents – she is very good. I’ve been hard pressed to put my finger on exactly what it is about her narrations that hasn’t quite worked, because, taken as a whole, they have never been as good as the individual parts.
I haven’t been able to grade any of her narrations higher than a B, so far, but at last, I’ve listened to Ms. Larkin narrate something in which her many skills are displayed to best advantage. From the first time I listened to her, I’ve thought that her real talent is for the narration of light romantic comedy, and with Noble Intentions she proves that, without a doubt. Her timing is excellent, her character portrayals are all distinct (and there are quite a lot of secondary characters for her to get to grips with), and, even though her American accent slips from time to time, her portrayal of Gillian perfectly captures the character’s breezy, uncomplicated nature. Her portrayal of Noble, too, is very good. Ms. Larkin seems to be employing a slightly deeper pitch for her heroes now, and she does that to good effect here, while exhibiting Noble’s almost permanent state of affectionate exasperation and his eventual, fatalistic acceptance that, with Gillian, he’s never going to have the ordered existence he thought he’d wanted.
If you’re looking for a deep and meaningful, character driven romance, then Noble Intentions probably isn’t the audiobook for you. If, however, you’re in the mood for a laugh which clips along at a fast pace with plenty of funny dialogue, a couple of dogs with digestive problems, a piratical butler, three identical footmen who have to be numbered, and a heroine with a propensity for putting her foot in her mouth, then I think you need look no further.