Saturday, February 15, 2014

Review: Mad About the Earl by Christina Brooke

There have been Beauty and the Beast stories and variations probably almost from the instant that the first telling was finished. It's a good story, that what's on the outside doesn't reflect what's on the inside and that everyone is deserving of love. It's romantic and hopeful with a happy ending, everything that a good romance is as well. So it's not a surprise that as a trope, it is very common in romances. Christina Brooke's historical romance, the second in the Ministry of Marriage series, Mad About the Earl, is one of those beauty and the beast stories.

Lady Rosamund Westruther has definite ideas about how her betrothal is going to happen. She may be entering willingly into an arranged marriage but there's still going to be romance and accord if her daydreaming is anything to judge by. So she's shocked when her intended doesn't even meet her upon her arrival at his home.  She's even more shocked when she discovers that he has no interest in marrying her aside from placating his evil bully of a grandfather. For his part,  Griffin deVere can't believe that the stunning and self-possessed young woman he meets in the stable yard is to be his wife; he can't begin to imagine that she wants to marry him and that she's not repulsed by his scarred countenance and massive body. They share one incendiary kiss that bodes well for their physical compatibility but then they go their separate ways.

Rosamund has romanticized everything about Griffin and yet when he still hasn't claimed her in marriage three years after their betrothal she realizes that she can't wish this arranged marriage into fairy tale status, that real relationships, whether chosen for or by one, take work and a mutual respect. So when Griffin, now the Earl of Tregarth, is in need of a wife to give his sister the London season he wants for her and demands that Rosamund return immediately to the wilds of Cornwall to marry him, she tells him in no uncertain terms that she will not marry him without a proper courtship. Like a bear with a sore head, Griffin gives in and travels to London, where he comes to know Rosamund and her family and they him.

Neither Griffin nor Rosamund have had loving or caring upbringings. Griffin was humiliated, belittled, and abused by his grandfather his whole life. His self-esteem is almost non-existent. His social skills were crippled by the hate and ridicule heaped on him by the old man and he is a prickly loner who finds intimidation to be the best way to get what he wants. He has been little loved in his life. Rosamund was luckier than Griffin in that after her father's death, her guardian, the Duke of Montford, removed her brother and her from their mother's poisonous influence. But her mother, beautiful, icy, and demeaning has never been completely out of Rosamund's life.  And it is by watching her mother that Rosamund knows she wants something better out of marriage; she intends to find something better with Griffin.

Both of the main characters are judged by their outward appearance and have to overcome people's preconceived notions of them. They each have to learn to trust the other as well, revealing their true and loving natures. Both are constrained by reputation, whether real or imagined. And most importantly, they must learn to be together with respect and trust between them. As they are learning this, and failing at times, they are surrounded by either Rosamund's family or by Griffin's sister and neighbor. The secondary characters are intriguing and help to push Rosamund and Griffin together.

While both Griffin and Rosamund are damaged by their upbringing, it seems Griffin gets a pass to be thoughtless and never have to apologize or make amends for his continued, inexplicable abandonments while Rosamund is always the gracious and understanding woman who tames the beast. Their sexual tension is terrific but their personal interactions were just a bit too one sided to be completely enjoyable. The happenings outside of their interactions with each other were often given short shift when they should either have been skipped completely or have made more of an impact on the story. Over all, this was fine for a couple of hours' diversion but it wasn't as complete or balanced as I could have hoped.

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