Merely a Marriage- Jo Beverley
Release Date: May 30, 2017
Rating (out of 5):
Warning: Potential Spoilers!
Synopsis: As England mourns the death of Princess Charlotte, Lady Ariana Boxstall has another succession in mind. Her brother, Norris, is a strapping young man, but he’s also happily unmarried and childless. Norris agrees to take a wife on one condition: that Ariana take a husband first. Although she realizes she risks a lifetime in a loveless marriage, for the sake of her family, Ariana accepts his challenge.
When the Earl of Kynaston met Ariana eight years ago, he broke her heart. Since then, his own heart has been broken, and he’s sworn off love...until he sees Ariana all grown-up and his resolve is threatened.
Could Ariana’s bargain with Norris actually lead her to happiness? With real love on the line, she must win over the one man who refuses to be had
Recognizing that her home and family is in danger of falling to her drunken wastrel of an uncle if her brother doesn't marry and produce an heir, Lady Ariana Boxstall is determined to push Norris to get married. As a 23 year old, Norris is more interested in horses than marriage so he proposes that Arianna marry first. If she can marry in the next few weeks, he'll follow suit. Ariana hates Town but heads there to hunt a husband and accidentally ends up embroiled in scandal with the Earl of Kynaston. She thinks he's a drunk who's squandered all his money, but when he tries to help end the scandal, she sees a new side to the mysterious earl.
Merely a Marriage was a very up and down book for me. I enjoyed the fast-paced writing and Ariana's light humor, and was certainly interested enough to read the whole book. But at the same time the characters were shallow, often annoying, and didn't really seem to grow or develop as the book went on. The book is set just after the death of Princess Charlotte and Charlotte is a ghost that is meant to effect each of the characters in different ways. It has Ariana pushing Norris to marry and ensure the security of the family home and his mother and sister. It haunts Kynaston, reminding him of the death of his wife under similar circumstances and acts to further cement his idea of never marrying again. You would expect it would have Ariana thinking about the dangers of marriage, but apparently that never crosses her mind- she is surprised when Knyaston brings it up.
Unlike many historical romances, Ariana also never brings up the argument of how marriage would not limit Norris, but would greatly change her own life. Beyond living in a new place (which does come up) she would legally be under her husband's rule, her money would be his, and marrying the wrong man would have serious consequences. She blithely assumes she'll just pick one of her previous suitors, get married, and move on. The problem is that she's a very tall woman and refuses to marry a man shorter than her. In her mind, based on a disastrous season when she was 17, she's a freak because of her height. As a debutante she was made fun of, and many times she's still that awkward, unsure girl, while other times she's confident in herself and her intelligence. Ariana also flips back and forth on Knyaston. 8 years ago she was infatuated with him because of his looks but overheard him with friends joking about many debutants, herself included. Now she's determined to dislike the man and never works to discover anything of who he's become or what he's been through in the intervening years. The first time she sees him he's drunk in his aunt's library, and she decides that he's not only a rake but a drunkard who is financially ruined, treats his little sister terribly, and ignores everything outside of the bottle. The reader can tell she's a bit prejudice but frustratingly only sees him through Ariana's eyes and so only learns things as she does. I would have preferred the narrative to go back and forth between their points of view, but we rarely see anything from Knyaston's viewpoint. The few times we do, the scenes are short, simple, and don't help drive the narrative or the characters.
It's impossible to tell when Ariana falls for Knyaston or if she's always loved him and never admitted it (I think even Ariana couldn't answer that), but it's also hard to see why she loves him. She seems to decide that she can change the man she thinks he is and save him from himself without bothering to learn anything about him. There's no chemistry between them, although there are several entertaining scenes as they try and debunk rumors of a scandalous tryst. The end solution, when everyone who's anyone explores Mr. Peake's antiquities collections, is a novel and enjoyable solution to the tricky problem of Society's fickle opinion.
Overall an enjoyable enough book for a quick read, but don't expect a complex plot or engaging characters out of Merely a Marriage.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.