Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Belles of London #2
Published by Berkley on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository, Bookshop.org
A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.
Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.
For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.
In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…
The first book in the Belles of London series, The Siren of Sussex, introduced readers to four Victorian heroines who cared more for their horses, and the equestrienne skills required to master them, than for the marriage mart that was supposed to have been every young lady’s dream.
Not that the romantic heroes of the series, at least so far, are any more conventional than the heroines have so far proven to be.
The second book in the series’ case in point, presumed wallflower Julia Wychwood – with her dowry of 50,000 pounds, and reluctant fortune hunter and Crimean War veteran Captain Jasper Blunt.
But neither of them is exactly what they appear to be on the surface, as Julia and Jasper discover – very nearly to their cost – after it is too late to get out of their hasty marriage. Probably too late, anyway.
A problem which hinges on one of the many, many secrets that have either been kept from them or that they are keeping from each other. Any one of which could break them. Or their marriage. Or both.
Escape Rating B: In a review of another work of historical fiction, I said that “it seems as if behind every successful woman there’s either a rotten first husband, a harridan of a mother, or both.” I forgot about just how selfish and/or profligate fathers can be in attempting to doom their daughters to dependency or failure. I was definitely remiss.
Because Julia Wychwood has both the harridan of a mother and the selfish, self-indulgent cruelty of a father to contend with. And as the story begins she is not contending terribly well at all.
Her parents, both wealthy hypochondriacs, quite literally plan on marrying Julia off to a rich man who will keep her in London, near to their home in Belgrave Square, so that she can continue to be their unpaid attendant, verbal punching bag and slave for the rest of her life.
What makes the first third of this book hard to read is that she doesn’t fight back, in spite of being of age and having an inheritance of her own that is not dependent on her father. Because she is so beaten down that she can’t imagine getting out from under.
It’s only when the hypochondriacs bring in a quack doctor who bleeds her half to death that the penny finally drops that she isn’t even safe in her parents’ household. Their plan is to bleed her into insensibility so that she can be declared unfit and they can marry her off to a man they know will at least verbally abuse her just as much as they do.
It’s hard to read about Julia becoming increasingly downtrodden – particularly when it becomes known that she has options she isn’t exercising.
But that’s where Blunt comes in. He tried to do the honorable thing and marry her with her father’s permission, which was denied because Blunt intends to take Julia to his estate in the Yorkshire moors. A place where she’ll be much, much happier. She hates the London Season for a myriad of reasons that only begin with her acute social anxiety.
It’s when he finally manages to literally sweep Julia off her feet, in the most romantic fashion possible, that the story lifts itself up – right along with Julia’s health and spirits – and runs off with the reader’s heart. Because it’s when they are away from London that they are able to see all the problems that their hasty marriage has led them into – and to see a way out of those problems together.
Once they finally begin telling each other the truth.
As a reader, I have to say that Julia’s helplessness in that first third of the story hit a whole bunch of triggers for me – to the point where if this hadn’t been for a tour I would have DNF’d the book.
But I hung on because so many people love this series so much, and there were so many interesting features in the first book that I kept going to see if I could find the charm that others have found. And I have to say that I did.
In the first third of the story Julia has no agency, which is hard to read. At that point she finally takes her life into her own hands – no matter how much those hands happen to be trembling with weakness from blood loss at the time – and proposes marriage to Blunt and asks him to rescue her because she is temporarily incapacitated and rightfully afraid to stay another minute.
And who can blame her?
But once they are out of that terrible house the story takes off too. They have a lot to learn about each other, and they’ll need to grow together, but they have a solid friendship as well as a growing attraction to build upon.
Once they get all of the secrets between them out of the way.
Most of those secrets are fairly obvious to the reader pretty early on, but that doesn’t detract from the story at all. It’s the reveal of those secrets to each other that is key, not whether the reader has figured it out beforehand. Especially considering that those secrets are real and important and not just misunderstandammits. We understand the reason they were kept and empathize with how difficult it is to finally let them go.
One of the fun parts of the story is the way that literature and fairy tales are woven into the romance without ever taking it over. Julia is very much Belle to Jasper’s Beast, but that’s not the only trope that gets woven into the story.
In the end, The Belle of Belgrave Square is a charming Victorian romance about learning to face one’s tormentors, standing on one’s own two feet AND finding the right person to stand with you. It’s about planting yourself where you belong and blooming there. And it’s about doing the right thing rather than the easy thing – and taking the lumps for it.
While I had my doubts at the beginning, by the end I was all in for this one. To the point where I’m very curious to see where the series goes in its next entry, The Lily of Ludgate Hill, coming out in January of 2024.
~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
Mimi has generously offered a fabulous giveaway that book tour participants can add to their post and on social media. Here are the details:
Giveaway period: October 3 – October 30
Terms & Conditions:
Giveaway hosted by Mimi Matthews. No Purchase Necessary. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Open to US residents only. All information will remain confidential and will not be sold or otherwise used, except to notify the winner and to facilitate postage of the book to the winner. Void where prohibited.
1 winner (selected at random by Rafflecopter) receives a paperback copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square, signed and annotated by the author with personal comments, underlining of her favorite lines, and other highlights by Mimi Matthews.
Giveaway is open from 12:01 am Pacific time 10/03/22 until 11:59pm Pacific time on 10/30/22.
The winner will be announced on Mimi’s blog on 10/31/22.