Publication date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Kensington Books
Series: Holiday Pleasures #3
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My first thought upon completing this novel was: how can I send some flowers to Mrs. Romain?
Contrary to what the cover may suggest, this book is not in the least light-hearted, nor does it contain untamed passions. Rather, this is for me analogous to a game of chess (which is also a motif in the book) and the slow unraveling of complex characters. It is mentally intense, utterly gripping, and will monopolize your time once you pick it up.
Jane Tindall is the country cousin of the Earl of Xavier (Season for Surrender). She has no money of her own, so she earns it through gambling in disguise. One particular unlucky night she was outsmarted by a cheater, and just when she planned to recoup her losses, her longtime acquaintance Edmund Ware, Baron Kirkpatrick, unwittingly revealed her identity and thus landed her in heavy debt. Being the quintessential gentleman, Edmund offers to pay off Jane’s debt, except he can’t procure that colossal sum. Jane’s inheritance, however, is just that amount, though she can only get it when she marries or gains her majority. As the debt is being called in a few days, Edmund proposes a marriage-of-convenience to pay the debts, and also solve his problem of needing an heir as Turner, an unsavory adversary from his past, had just turned up and looking for revenge.
At first glance, Edmund seems like a typical good-natured, nice fellow. He is good to everyone, divides his care to those needing it, but doesn’t spend time on flattery and instead employs honesty as his emotional shield.
“Because Xavier was right: Edmund was good to everyone. He had developed the habit long ago. It was…atonement.” (Loc 357/4067)
Edmund is stoic, reticent, controlled, and always composed. He developed the traits of a dependable person due to tragic events in his past, but in being good to everyone, he is never true to anyone. All of Edmund’s inner turmoil, struggles, hopes and dreams are all safely locked away in his neutral manner, and the more Jane tries to find the key, the more Edmund pushes her away with his indifference. It seems almost contradictory that a man who is constantly sensitive to helping others can be so indifferent, but precisely because every action Edmund does is controlled, he never lets a part of himself go; his acts of rebellion are mere thoughts fighting in his mind, no the wiser but for the readers, and Jane, albeit late in the story. The saddest thing is, Edmund knows it too, and he stubbornly contains himself not for guilt, as he believed, but for convenience. It is convenient for him to believe that he cannot love anyone as an excuse of not trying, just as it was convenient for him to ignore Jane’s feelings for him because he feels burdened by them. More than convenience, Edmund’s behaviors stem from a deeply rooted fear of any disruption to the small world in which he reside, emotionally closed off from the world. His world was comfortable, it was nice. A safety maneuver in not giving himself up for the disappointment of others; it was nice not to try to love anyone because he doesn’t know how, and he is both aware and satisfied of this fact.
“Of course, my lady, I’m good to everyone – except the people who deserve it the most.” (Loc 866/4067)
Dear Jane, poor Jane who had always loved Edmund and just wanted a piece of his attention, his love, got the worse bargain with their marriage-of-convenience. Jane is young, slightly wild, and lacking in interpersonal perspicacity, qualities which make her somewhat immature at the beginning of the book. She is impatient, impulsive, and in love with Edmund, all of which contribute to her inability to truly understand Edmund. She wants him to be the doting, loving husband, but he can’t do that, and when Jane realizes that, she bolts. Just like Edmund, she is likewise too comfortable in her own small world, knowing that if she fell, she can depend on her cousin Xavier and his wife Louisa to support her always. In her case, though, she could not take the plunge emotionally with love as she had not known the Edmund she professed to love, and the truth that Edmund was unable to love anyone devastated her.
“You’ve left your heart behind somewhere long ago, but you’ve never gone back to get it. You look for little pieces of it in everyone you meet. You make everyone love you, just a little. But what do you feel in return? Nothing, because you’re always looking for what’s next.” (Loc 2843/4067)
As for Edmund, he doesn’t quite know what he wants from Jane. It certainly isn’t affection, nor love, and that is something he eventually figures out, albeit belatedly.
“Well, I want to give you more, but you don’t want what it is I can give. You want some – some fake me. The real Edmund – he’s not who you want at all.” (Loc 2890/4067)
The real issue is that for a long time, neither of them knew what the other needed, and neither could give what the other wanted. A constant struggle both externally and internally for Jane and Edmund of themselves, of each other, and with the world. I should say that the romance element of the book takes second place to each character’s individual transformations – Edmund’s growth into a man who can truly care and love others, and Jane into a woman of understanding and acceptance. For that fact Edmund’s love confession at the end seems unbelievable, for his journey primarily focused on self-exploration and stepping out of self-imposed misery, instead of say, having his heart healed by Jane.
The one big issue I had with this book is concerning why Edmund did not tell Jane of Turner’s identity. Edmund knew Turner came back for revenge on him, and Turner even said he planned to seduce Jane and turn her against Edmund, so why didn't Edmund warn Jane to beware of Turner when he started to occupy a place as her friend under a false identity? Now, he could very well have been logical and omitted his past and simply warned Jane that Turner is a villain from his past, but he didn't, and that was problematic for the plot and his characterization.
There is much parallelism between Jane and Edmund’s pasts, though few little was mentioned of Jane’s except that she wanted to find a better opportunity. Edmund, too, sought to escape from his, which he did in the form of neglect for many years. Another note of interest is the application of a reverse Hamlet theme in regards to Edmund’s past – which is made more apparent in Edmund quoting passages from Hamlet.
This is the longest review I've written to date, and kudos to Mrs. Romain for crafting such a thoughtful story worthy of much analysis and in-depth study. Her It Takes Two to Tangle had evoked a Cyrano de Bergerac theme, and this one of Hamlet, so I’m expecting another classical motif in her next work. If you've read this far, you can see how intricate and complex these characters are, and I highly, unreservedly, recommend this absolutely fantastic book for all readers, for it is not just about romance, it is about understanding a person’s true character and appreciate that for what it is.
Rating: 4.5 tulips
*Review copy from the publisher via Netgalley