Posted in: willaful reviews
Tags:Historical romance, Regency, Susanna Fraser
Fraser’s third novel confirms my opinion of her as a go-to writer for Regency romance that is actually set in the Regency rather than in that Never-Neverland mash-up that’s been dubbed “The Recency” or “Almackistan.” It’s a gracefully written, authentic feeling story
Soldier Jack Armstrong is too honorable to ignore a deathbed promise, and so he dutifully marries his best friend’s widow just before heading back to the war. But his resentment about being forced to marry a “dull, cold mouse” leads him to live as if he was still a bachelor — not realizing that word of his exploits in Canada could ever get back to his faithfully waiting wife. When he returns home after five years, he’s astonished to realize that the dull, cold mouse is a strong, confident, attractive woman — who wants no part of him.
Jack sets out to woo his wife and earn her forgiveness, and does so so successfully that the next time he goes to war against the French, she goes with him. But one ugly secret from Jack’s past still remains hidden, like a poisonous snake waiting in the grass.
Fraser finds an excellent source of conflict here, in a generally brave and honorable man who unthinkingly behaves in a dishonorable and cowardly fashion. Jack’s behavior is especially appalling because he doesn’t make any allowances for the fact that Elizabeth had just lost her husband after nursing him for a week, and is naturally not at her best. I was touched by this description of her:
Giles had always made her feel beautiful even though she knew otherwise. Now, staring at her reflection, she didn’t even see passable prettiness. Even her eyes looked pale and weary. She closed them and rested her head in her hands…
No wonder Jack didn’t want her. She didn’t especially want herself.
The story seems very plausible in its setting. Elizabeth doesn’t really expect strict faithfulness from her husband (especially since their marriage was unconsummated) but she does expect discretion and respect. Instead, her reward for tending to Jack’s lands and his ailing mother is humiliation, and secret disgust with herself for having felt that she was falling in love with him through his witty, charming letters home. She has a genuine grievance and Jack recognizes that, and is truly sorry and ashamed of his immaturity. His dangerous cowardice he doesn’t recognize until almost too late.
Jack and Elizabeth are good together — Jack definitely appreciates an assertive woman — and I enjoyed watching them move towards attraction, trust and love. Though the tone of the book is generally serious, it’s not without light moments:
He held out his hand and she took it, cautiously. ‘Even if you and I are a bad bargain, Elizabeth, I’d rather make the best of it than wish myself out of it.’
Both of them wore thick gloves against the chill day, but the pressure of his hand, the warm strength of his grip, still sent a jolt of awareness straight to her core. It was a solemn moment, and she almost told him that she would forgive him, eventually, and give him his heir — and then the absurdity of the situation struck home and she began to laugh.
‘What,’ he ground out, dropping her hand, ‘is so amusing?’
With difficulty she calmed herself enough to speak. ‘We’ve established we don’t wish each other dead. I suppose it’s a beginning.’
I was happy to read a historical romance in which the time period and setting actually matter, and influence the characters’ behavior. I’m not an expert on historical detail, but the book generally felt right to me. (The author does mention some liberties she took with battle details in an afterward.) Fans of understated, atmospheric Regencies like those by Carla Kelly and Edith Layton won’t want to miss this.
I give An Infamous Marriage 4 stars. It’s published by Carina, so only available digitally for now. The publication date is November 5th: you can pre-order it from Amazon here or from Barnes and Noble here.
UPDATE: Now available as an audiobook.
Review copy provided by Carina via netGalley.