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Lord Gideon Birch, wounded former naval Captain and freshly minted Viscount, has a colorful history as a renowned lover of women. But a decade at war has transformed this sensual rake, and what he wants now is only to live a life on his own terms. And so he comes to the quietest village in England, searching for serenity, and instead encounters an astonishingly enthralling pair of green eyes that unsettle his carefully constructed world.
Though she would love nothing more than to leave Littleover, Miss Theadosia Ridley is sorely hampered by a lack of funds. Desperately trying to earn enough to feed herself and her ailing family servant, she must reluctantly accept Lord Birch’s opportune offer of employment: He needs her and her knowledge of Greek to catalog and translate the extensive library he’s accumulated over the course of the war. Dubious of his motives, she vows to keep her distance from the dashing newcomer. But time in his company unveils a compelling man far more complex than his shallow reputation would lead one to believe.
Can she uphold her vow not to succumb to his charms?
Rating: Narration – A- : Content – C
Susanna Malcolm’s Besotted with the Viscount is a fairly low-angst tale set in a small English village, which sees two people who don’t quite fit in discovering that they fit in with each other rather well. It’s a leisurely-paced, character-driven tale, that starts well, but drags in the middle and then resorts to a rather clichéd Big Misunderstanding in order to create some much-needed tension towards the end. The principals are likeable for the most part, although I found the heroine to be rather too negative, and I can’t deny there were times I thought both principals needed a slap!
Captain Lord Gideon Birch, younger brother of an earl, has recently been ennobled in recognition of his service during the recent wars. Widely regarded as a hero, he has no wish to be continually reminded of his life in the Navy, a career forced upon him by his family and which he hated. Now retired due to a serious injury to his knee, he wants nothing more than to live quietly somewhere as far from the sea as possible, and has purchased a property in the vicinity of the remote village of Littleover in Derbyshire.
Thea Ridley is the daughter of a scholar and lived most of her life in Greece before returning to England following the deaths of her parents. She lives in a small cottage with her elderly companion and is barely making ends meet, so when the opportunity arises to work for the captain as a kind of librarian – Lord Birch has acquired a large number of Greek texts he cannot read (he doesn’t know Greek) – she jumps at the chance to earn some money, with a view to making enough to be able to leave England and make a home in Italy.
It’s a nice way of getting the two together, but I couldn’t help asking myself how it was that neither of them thought it improper to be alone together so often. I suppose it could be that Gideon regarded Thea as a servant and therefore without a reputation to worry about, but that’s clearly not the case, given that they first meet at a social event. He’s immediately smitten by her beautiful face (and in fact, if anyone is besotted in this story, it’s him), so when the local vicar suggests she would be the ideal person to catalogue and translate his books, he jumps at the chance to have her in his house and hopes to get to know her. But Gideon’s reputation as a rake and libertine is widely known, so Thea, who is still getting over being thrown over by the young man she’d expected to marry – is wary, of Gideon and of men in general.
This is a romance novel, so I don’t need to spell out where things are headed. Thea is equally taken with the handsome captain, but keeps reminding herself that Men Are Not To Be Trusted and remains in denial about the truth of her feelings for Gideon. Until, that is, her former love arrives back in the village accompanied by his new – pregnant – wife (whom he married for money), and promptly propositions Thea, intending to make her his mistress. She’s so furiously indignant, she goes back to Gideon’s house, figures if all men are going to think she’s a whore, she might as well be one, and jumps Gideon – much to his delight.
Things between them are fairly blissful (fortunately, Gideon has hardly any servants, so there’s nobody to witness them getting it on in all the rooms in the house) – although at no point does he, a gentleman, mention marriage – until the Big Mis kicks in near the end. Without spoilers, something happens to Thea which turns the whole village against her, and when details reach Gideon – who has had to go away for a week – he immediately believes the worst, and, on returning to Littleover, makes no attempt to see or speak to Thea to get her side of the story.
Needless to say, Gideon’s behaviour at that point is unforgiveable and I didn’t blame Thea for the decision she makes afterward. All is happily resolved, of course, but I have to say that while I generally liked Gideon, his lack of faith in Thea in the final stages of the novel left a nasty taste in my mouth.
It will come as no surprise when I say that the narration was by far the strongest part of this audiobook. Unfortunately, however, not even the velvet tones of Nicholas Boulton were enough to raise the book above the average, and actually, it’s the first time I’ve ever said that I wished he’d been given better material to work with, as so far, the authors he’s narrated for in the romance genre – Laura Kinsale, Alexis Hall, Elizabeth Kingston – are all top-notch. His performance is excellent, as usual; his interpretations of the various characters are fabulous, they’re all very clearly differentiated, and his ability to get to the emotional heart of any given scene is superb. But ultimately, the story is weak and the heroine is difficult to warm to, so in spite of Mr. Boulton’s best efforts – wonderful though they are – Besotted by the Viscount is rather a middling affair.