What tickled me: Nifty plot, lots of juicy pain
What ticked me off: Overlap with Julia Quinn’s books was kind of twee. And veered close to pet-peeve territory a few times.
Who might like it: Readers like me who loved older angsty romances but are uncomfortably growing past them.
Oh yay — an English narrator that I liked! I have grown as a listener. It didn’t hurt that many of the accents, including the hero’s, are Scottish. Yum.
As you might guess, this is one in James’ non-linked series of Regency romances loosely based on fairy tales. Gowan, the starchy Scottish duke of something-or-other falls instantly in love with Edie, the daughter of somebody or other important. (I hate reviewing audiobooks…) They quickly marry, only to discover that their lifestyles aren’t very compatible — Gowan constantly supervises his estates and has very time alone, while Edie practices her cello 5 hours a day. To make things infinitely worse, their sex life isn’t working — Edie’s in a lot of pain but is too shy to talk about it, and her stepmother’s advice to fake orgasms backfires with a vengeance.
Marriages in trouble because of bad sex are one of James’ recurrent themes, and I always enjoy how she extrapolates what problems people might have had in a historical context. (In the Georgian An Affair Before Christmas, Poppy is too distracted by her horribly itchy unwashed hair to enjoy herself.) In this case, both characters are virgins and they barely know each other; Edie is especially inhibited by the lack of privacy in the castle. The Rapunzel theme is worked nicely into the story, through Gowan’s jealousy and wish to possess Edie, but as usual there’s an interesting twist.
I thought this was a wonderful melding of classic romance themes with more realistic problems and sympathetic characters (yes, the hero can utterly break the heroine’s heart without being a total asshole!) And I enjoyed Edie’s seemingly wicked but actually quite lovable stepmother. The pet peeves were around her: she winds up giving up all her flirtatious ways and naughty gowns for motherhood, which is all she’d really wanted all along. It is possible to be a mother and still show some cleavage, trust me. And there’s a magic baby epilogue, though that didn’t bother me too much because it isn’t completely improbable in the circumstances.
The narration is very well done, with distinct voices for each character and a lovely low Scottish burr for Gowan.