Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Merely the Groom by Rebecca Hagan Lee

The second installment in Lee's Free Fellows League trilogy, this is the story of Colin McElreath, Lord Grantham, and Gillian Davies. The Free Fellows vowed as young boys to remain single and to serve their country above all else. And they do serve their country as spies and code breakers but they cannot escape the bonds of matrimony forever. Opening with Colin having just evaded an assassin while on assignment in Scotland, he sees the blurred outline of a woman waiting at a window in an inn no decent woman should patronize and is intrigued despite himself. When he discovers that he has unpleasant company awaiting him in his own room, he slips into the woman's room where she sleepily mistakes him for her new husband, Colin Fox. They spend a chaste few hours in bed holding each other and in the end, when Colin slips away, he leaves the woman the money to pay off the innkeeper and to return to her home, knowing that she has been abandoned.

The woman Colin thus rescued is Gillian Davies, who had run to Scotland to elope with the dashing Colin Fox. Of course, she is ruined but her family is trying to keep a lid on the scandal by claiming that she was visiting relatives in the country even while her father has engaged a Bow Street runner to investigate and find Colin Fox. The problem is that there is no such person, the name being a nom de guerre that Colin McElreath sometimes uses on his missions. And so the Bow Street runner's investigations are dangerously close to exposing important War Office work. Colin meets with Baron Davies and the runner to explain the problem and in the end, agrees to marry the ruined Gillian in order to call off the investigation despite not being the one to have ruined her. Colin needs to continue to search for the person using his alias, knowing that the man is more than just a despoiler of young women and is more than likely in league with Napoleon but he is also rather in need of the obscene amount of money that Baron Davies offers as Gillian's dowry. And while these circumstances seem as if they should make for a hostile bride and groom, they don't, with each of the characters accepting fate with equanimity.

Once this arranged marriage happens, rather than allowing a love to grow over time, our characters fall in love with unconvincing haste. Colin offers not to consummate their marriage until they know each other better, Gillian accepts with relief, and yet less than two pages later, they are all in. Apparently both of them were open books so the getting introduced phase didn't have to last even a day. In addition to this annoying trend in romances (deep abiding love based on nothing more substantial than air), Lee also has some niggling historical inaccuracies in here which will stick in the craw of sticklers. The narrative also suffers from unevenness, plodding in the beginning and warp speed in the end with no appreciable build to link the two. All in all, it's an awkward book. Since I have the third, I will be reading it to round out the series, but I'm hoping for more than I found in this one.


  1. This novel doesn't really sound like my cup of tea, but I love the in your review about being an open book. Good one!

  2. I love historical romances, but this one doesn't sound worth the time.


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