When the morning paper announces his engagement to a woman he’s never met, William Atherton, the Earl of Norwood, is rightfully confused. Confused and more than a little pissed off. Filled with righteous anger, he calls upon the chit, a one Charlotte Hurst, to give her a piece of his mind and to inform her that her ill-thought out marriage trap will not work.
He makes an utter cake of himself.
To his chagrin, he finds that not only did Charlotte not publish the announcement but that she is as much a victim of this announcement as he is. And that while she has considerably more to lose, she informs him that she wouldn’t marry him if he were the last eligible man on earth. Shocked and now more than a little intrigued, William proposes a solution: go through with the engagement for a time and then have Charlotte publicly jilt him to save face. Because while the scandal of this false announcement might cost him a coveted and competitive posting in the Prime Minister’s government, it could cost Charlotte her whole future.
It’s the perfect solution. Assuming one doesn’t fall in love in the process.
Okay… you all know me. You know that Fake-Dating-Becomes-Real is one of my favorite tropes in like the history of forever. It’s right up there with Time Travel, Enemies-to-Lovers, and The-Big-One-Keeps-The Small-One-From-Murdering-People. I have a lot of favorite tropes. LOL So this book, with the whole Fake Dating as well a hint of Enemies-to-Lovers, is seriously right up my alley. And this Debut novel by Kate Pembrooke scratched my itch quite nicely.
Charlotte is definitely the shy, retiring kind of wallflower with a hint of steel underneath. She’s not comfortable with small talk. She’s nervous in large crowds. She’s much more interested in books than the weather. And she desperately wants to do something with her life. She has no interest in landing a titled husband just for the sake of landing a titled husband. She wants love, mutual affection, and she’s not willing to settle. She’s an interesting character–a little naïve at times, a little prudish at others–she is most definitely a product of her time. She doesn’t consider herself the kind of woman an ambitious Earl like William would want to marry and that forms the basis for much of their conflict.
As for William, he’s also a bit of a prude… but in the “he’s part of the establishment” kind of way. Part of his arc is understanding that he does need to unbend for things to improve between him and Charlotte as well as sorting out his priorities. Part of me really likes that his arc features the potential sacrifice of something he really wants in order to both do the right thing and also to get the girl. It’s something that generally the woman has to be the one making the sacrifice instead of the man. So I liked that. But… another part of me doesn’t like it. I think that there should be solutions that form a compromise. I’m weird like that. I do like that William is very willing to apologize when he is wrong. It’s refreshing to see that honestly. But I didn’t love his jealousy and possessiveness. I did like that during the first sex scene that there was very good consent and there was a lot of implied consent in the earlier kisses. This is important, y'all.
The Side characters are fun and actually really offered good advice and were generally stand up characters… well rounded even if they were clearly not going to get their own book later – like some of William’s sisters. The antagonist of the book needed more depth, though. They were very over the top in an almost melodramatic kind of way. They were also introduced way too late in the book as an actual character and not an idea.
Plot-wise, it took me a little bit understand why the announcement would be a big deal. I knew right off that Charlotte could just jilt him and be done with it. And while it was eventually explained the rationale, It didn’t land for me immediately. I also didn’t love a few other things that happened in this book. There’s a very large TSTL moment which does have a VERY good lampshade hung on it, but the fall out from it is very predictable. I also felt that the ending was rushed. In fact the pacing was a bit off for the beginning of the book. While I totally loved the adorable epistolary banter in the beginning, I do think that a few scenes early on could be cut while some of the later scenes in the book felt rushed and missing components. This is why this book isn’t a five star from me.
As a note something I didn’t love but am not dinging the book for are the few anachronisms that slipped through (Giving someone “An Out” is from 1919 and “Being square” with someone… as in settled up is from 1868 and is an Americanism), some very weird punctuation choice, and a few missing scene breaks which turn into headhops. My hope is that these mistakes are limited to the ARC I read and are not in the final product. But in case they are, I am noting them in this review.
In all, this was a very good debut novel that did a good job of setting up the world and introducing us to future characters. I am definitely interested in reading Serena and Charles’ book when it is available.
Because I liked this book despite a few missteps this gets:
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I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley