The Match of the Century (Marrying the Duke #1) by Cathy Maxwell

The Match of the Century
This title may be purchased from Amazon

Every debutante aspires to snag a duke. Elin Morris just happens to have had one reserved since birth. But postponements of her marriage to London’s most powerful peer give Elin time to wonder how she will marry Gavin Baynton when she cannot forget his brother, Benedict.

Already exasperated at being yanked from the military to meet “family obligations,” now Ben must suffer watching his arrogant sibling squire the only woman he has ever loved. Joining the army saved Ben from sinking into bitterness, but seeing Elin again takes him back to the day they surrendered to their intoxicating desire.

As the wedding draws near, Elin tries to push Ben far from her thoughts. When danger brings them together, there is no denying their feelings. But can Elin choose love over duty?

Rating: C+

First in a new series from this much loved author, The Match of the Century tells the story of Elin Morris, a beautiful young woman from a loving, wealthy family who has been promised for years to a handsome young duke – and who would thus seem to have it all. But Elin has kept a secret from her betrothed for eight long years, one which, as her wedding draws closer, presses on her mind more and more.

Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Baynton, takes his responsibilities to his dukedom and his country extremely seriously, and is one of the most highly respected political minds in society. He keen to do his duty and marry Elin, the young woman to whom he has been unofficially betrothed for a number of years, sure she will make him an excellent wife. Elin is lovely, she will bring him an extremely large dowry and he looks forward to gaining her as his helpmeet as he navigates his way through political circles, confident that the liking they already have for each other will soon blossom into love.

Gavin’s younger brother Benedict (Ben) has been in the army and out of the country for the past eight years, but has been summoned back to England in order to fulfil his duties as Gavin’s heir, until such time as he and Elin have sons of their own. Ben, who hates the fact that his brother is engaged to the only woman he, Ben, has ever loved, is utterly furious at his brother’s high-handedness at arranging for him to be relieved of duty, and tells him so in no uncertain terms. Elin is present during their row, but before things can escalate, tragedy strikes when her beloved mother is suddenly taken ill and dies, necessitating the postponement of her wedding to Gavin.

Ben takes himself off to who-knows-where after that to lick his wounds, and Elin is dismayed to find herself feeling bereft at his absence. The secret she has carried for so long is that, before he left to join the army, she and Ben had fallen in love and had spent the night together. Her mother had dissuaded Elin from telling Gavin the truth about why she would not be going to the marriage bed a virgin, and Elin, hurt and betrayed by Ben’s departure immediately after that night had agreed. His reappearance opens up all those old wounds and brings back the old attraction in full force – but Elin is promised to Ben’s brother, a man who has never shown her anything but kindness and courtesy, and is reluctant to cause him pain – and scandal – by throwing him over.

Matters are taken out of her hands, however, when Elin is kidnapped by people who, she learns, are intent on murder. She has no idea who they are or why they want to kill her, but she manages to escape, running to the nearest shelter which happens to be a rather unsavoury-looking inn, peopled with even more disagreeable-looking men. Incredibly, one of these unkempt ruffians is none other than Ben – who is naturally concerned at Elin’s unexpected appearance and even moreso when she tells him the reasons behind it.

I raced through the first few chapters of the book almost without noticing it, which is always a good sign; and which I hoped was an indication that the rest of the book would be just as engaging. But that whole “in all the bars in all the world and you had to walk into mine” thing was just too much of a coincidence for me to swallow, and stopped me dead in my tracks. Elin is rather an ineffectual heroine, and I wasn’t convinced by the resurgence of her love for Ben, which hadn’t seemed to bother her while he was out of sight. The rest of the story is taken up with Ben and Elin’s journey to safety as they evade the would-be murderers and then, with Gavin’s help, with their working out just who was behind the plot to kill Elin and why. Other than the massive contrivance I’ve mentioned, the story is well put-together, but the romance between Elin and Ben is lacklustre and despite her best efforts, Ms Maxwell isn’t able to turn Gavin into the boring, unengaging figure she needs him to be in order for the reader to want Elin to choose Ben instead. In fact, I’d venture to say Gavin is the more attractive character. He’s upstanding and responsible, honourable and kind, and it’s clear that he very much wants to spend his life with a woman for whom he feels a strong and deep attachment and love; whereas Ben hasn’t quite grown up yet and isn’t above throwing a tantrum or two or sulking when he doesn’t get his own way. It’s not until near the end of the book that the brothers come to a greater understanding, and it’s at that point that Ben finally begins to see that perhaps Gavin hasn’t always had it easy and to start to understand the pressures he is under. The best line in the book comes from one of these later scenes, when, in response to Ben’s comment that Gavin hasn’t always been true to himself, Gavin replies: ”I didn’t create the world. I just happen to be very good at operating in it”, showing just how self-aware Gavin really is, and reinforcing the differences between them.

Actually, I found the relationship between the brothers to be more interesting than the romance, and am intrigued by the fact that there is a third brother – Gavin’s younger twin, Jack – who disappeared some years ago, and whom Gavin refuses to believe is dead. (The first chapter of the next book which is included at the end of the novel will quickly settle that matter for anyone who Needs To Know!)

I’m not saying that I disliked The Match of the Century, just that it fell a little flat for me when all’s said and done. Ms Maxwell is an accomplished writer, the pacing is good and the characters, while not stellar, are engaging, decent people. But the subplot is weak and overly melodramatic and the romance lacks that certain spark that would have truly brought it to life. As a result, I’m going to switch to listening to this series in audio, as it’s narrated by Mary Jane Wells, who is someone I can always rely on to really round-out a story. I’d like to find out how Gavin finally meets his match, and exactly what happened to Jack; but I’ll be listening rather than reading, I think.

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