It’s almost a universal concept. The person your child looks like they are going to marry just isn’t good enough for them. The definition of “good enough” may vary, but the idea probably occurred to the first caveman’s parents when he dragged a cavewoman home from the cave next door.
In Nicola Cornick‘s latest Regency romp, Notorious, she takes the concept to a whole new level. Betrothals were broken if one of the parties proved unfaithful before the marriage was solemnized. After the wedding, of course, the rules were a little different. But what if a young man’s parents really, really wanted to prevent his marriage to an unsuitable young lady? What if they could hire a professional “betrothal breaker” to tempt him away from someone they were just certain wasn’t, in this particular case, blue-blooded enough for their tastes?
There weren’t, as far as history records, any such things as professional “match breakers”, but that hasn’t stopped Cornick from creating a story centered around one.
Susanna Burney has been hired to prevent the impending match between Fitzwilliam Alton, the heir to the Duke of Alton, and Francesca Devlin, the rather impoverished sister of Lord James Devlin. Miss Devlin isn’t well enough bred for the son of a Duke. Not to mention, the Duke and Duchess of Alton fear she is a fortune-hunter. Unfortunately for Francesca, she really is in love with Mr. Alton. It is her brother, Lord Devlin, who is the fortune-hunter. James Devlin has been dancing attendance on Emma Brooke for two years, waiting for her to finally give him her hand, and her fortune.
Susanna Burney’s introduction into the London Season as the mysterious widow “Lady Carew” causes havoc, not just with Francesca’s plans, but also with Devlin’s own. Dev has met the lady before. However, he was informed, by her family no less, that the lady was dead. If he had not been so certain of her death, he would never have proposed marriage to the rich and possessive Emma, as Susanna Burney is Devlin’s wife.
This is a Regency farce that starts out with two couples and ends with three. At the beginning, James Devlin is unhappily engaged to Emma Brooke. He is a former adventurer who is marrying her money. She is a spoiled rich girl who wanted to marry an adventurer and is disappointed that he has become respectable. Francesca Devlin hopes she has an “understanding” with Frederick Alton. She loves him. He is a cad who intends to use her and then throw her away.
Enter Susanna Burney, masquerading as the mysterious Lady Carew. Her job is to seduce Alton away from Francesca, to the point where he proposes marriage, and then break the engagement a month or so later. Her plans start to fall apart the minute that she and Devlin meet. He has spent the last eight years believing himself a widower. She, on the other hand, has always known that he was among the living. Her reasons for not seeking him out are just one of the many secrets that lie between them.
Escape Rating B: Notorious was a great way to spend an afternoon. I wanted James Devlin to find a happy ending for himself, and I knew from the very beginning that Emma Brooke was not the right girl for him. I think she got what she deserved in the end, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. However, I found the character of Susanna to be somewhat contradictory, and it bothered me. She was a professional “matchbreaker”, and her “job” was to be sophisticated and seductive. And yet, she had managed to keep all of the men she had previously become engaged to not just out of her bed but had kept their hands off her as well! This stretched the bounds of either her luck or my fictional belief, even for a romance. But not enough to keep me from finishing the book at breakneck speed!