Having recently recaptured an interest in historical romances I thought I should test my limits by picking one of the historical romance ARCs that have been languishing in my Kindle since the end of summer. With the weather turning cold I am finally able to at least consider reading something set during the Christmas season. This review also has the distinction of being an experiment. Like many others bloggers, post-blogger-boycott, I am experimenting and tinkering with the way I review. This review will be broken up into two parts, the first a traditional review and the second a commentary-like somewhat spoilery extension at the end.
Season for Desire by Theresa Romain
Giles Rutherford is a dutiful and devoted son, tagging along after his father Richard as he searches for his late wife’s lost diamonds. Giles has left behind a life in Philadelphia to make sure his father’s treasure hunting adventure doesn’t beggar their family. Giles is unhappy to be an ocean away from his siblings. Through a mutual acquaintance, Lady Irving, the Rutherfords are enlisted to help track down a missing young woman, Lady Audrina, who is thought to be eloping with a suitor and they are asked to apprehend the couple should they come upon them.
Lady Audrina, has thrived on mischief and scandalous behavior since her debut. She has found her thrills sneaking off to dark corners and scandalous parties without getting caught. But caught she is now. A former lover, David Llewellyn has decided he could use her dowry and has drugged and abducted her, planning on forcing her to elope in Scotland. I immediately liked the heroine. She is worried, angry and cynical which I think is what I would feel in her situation.
Lady Audrina & Giles's paths intersect at coaching inn in York, where the groggy Audrina has to face her father’s deep disappointment. To cover Lady Audrina’s unplanned absence from London, and reward the Rutherfords for their assistance, Lord Alleyneham, Lady Audrina’s father arranges for Lady Irving and Audrina to join the Rutherfords on their treasure hunt and travel further into Yorkshire to the home of Lord and Lady Dudley, who have in their possession a puzzle box once owned by the Richard’s late wife. The trip is meant to insure that this or any further misadventures by Audrina derail her sister’s wedding to a Duke. Lady Audrina sees it for what it truly is, a father opportunistically abandoning a difficult and inconvenient daughter.
Thrown together, Giles and Audrina are essentially exiled from their normal lives and are forced to get to know each other. They also feel keenly that under regular circumstances they would have little to do with each other. I liked that Giles, even as an American is particular very aware of their difference in social rank, alluding to it whenever he teasingly calls Audrina, Princess. The social and familial costs of his mother’s, a Marquis’s daughter, elopement with an apprentice jeweler are well know to him. It allows him be compassionate and understanding, surprising Audrina.
I really liked that Romain took the time to develop Giles and Audrina’s relationship. They start off as antagonists, then grudging companions, and eventually unlikely confidants. The admiration they develop for each other goes beyond admiring each other’s eyes or bodies, although they do that too but is grounded in growing knowledge of each other’s character.
Romain crafted a delightful illusion of a slow burn romance. The sexual tension and the feelings of confusion and uncertainty they feel were appropriately messy, without feeling irrational or unfounded. The way they come to view each other, and how it challenges what they think of themselves, transforms them. Transformations are not comfortable or tidy, and neither is what they feel for each other.
The Audrina and Giles must confront complicated identity crises. Both have embraced false beliefs about themselves, letting situations and people define them and they have undervalued their own worth.I really liked that while they help change each other’s mind about their value and future, they make the crucial choices, realizations and transformations on their own. When they finally give themselves to each other they do so knowing their own worth.
This was the first Theresa Romain I’ve read and although Season for Desire is the 4th book in her Holiday Pleasures series I was very happy to report that I was able to enjoy it fully despite not having read any of the previous books in the series. Some of the heroes and heroines from the previous books do appear in the last half of the book but they don’t pull attention away from the main characters.
I really appreciated her treatment of secondary characters. They are richly drawn and distinct. Richard and Lady Irving, Sophy & the Dudley’s do more than exist for the benefit of providing conversational partners for the main characters. Richard is a dreamer without being foolish. He uses his good-humor to benefit all around him. He is not simply a foil for his realist son. Caustic Lady Irving’s backstory and hidden vulnerabilities humanizes her, and I loved how feelings of incredulity and pleasure war in her as she realizes Richard is flirting with her. The Dudleys, their widowed blue-stocking daughter-in-law Sophy & Miss Corning have their own motivations for aiding the Rutherfords in their treasure hunt. Like everyone else who walks in and out of the story they have pains and history, even if we only know them for a little while. Personally, I would have loved to have read a whole novel centered on Sophy and Miss Corning.
As a whole I found Season For Desire to be highly enjoyable. It was funny, witty, while not sacrificing emotional weight. I thought all the characters were given time to develop and both the pacing and the plot worked for me. As holiday-themed novel, I thought it did a great job weaving in the holiday setting, without being cloying or artificial. I will certainly seek out other novels by Theresa Romain.
4 out 5 stars to Season for Desire by Theresa Romain
Season for Desire has been available at all the usual places since Oct 7, 2014
I received a review copy of Season for Desire from its publisher Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing Group via NetGalley.
Expanded Review ( with some spoilery commentary below):
One of the things that grabbed me when I started reading this story was the fact that Giles believes himself to be suffering from a form of arthritis. Giles suffers from ocassional numbness in his fingers, sharp pains in his hands and wrists, that causes him to believe he is developing the same kind of arthritis that debilitated his mother. I really liked having a hero who was not physically perfect. His pain is real, it more than inconveniences him, but what he fears most is what he thinks it means for his life, and it keeps him from offering himself to her.
Medical knowledge being what it was, the uncertainty and assumptions Giles makes are not unbelievable. It was totally credible that he would believe himself to have the same kind of arthritis that affected his mother and aunt. It is also perfectly believable to me that he would think of himself as cursed by it and that it would keep him from offering himself to Audrina. It is consistent with his ultra-responsible personality.
But I was troubled by the fact that while Giles is missing Audrina horribly, and knows he loves her, the catalyst that helps Giles decided that he can’t let Audrina get away is when he learns that his pains and aches are not same in character as those of his mother and that he might in fact be suffering instead from a treatable injury (the author's note makes it clear that she intends for him to be suffering from Carpal Tunnel) . While it is not the only thing that decides him, and although when proposes he insists that he would have done so even if he still believed he had a debilitating illness, that is not how it read to me. I wished that he had come to the decision of offering himself to her fully before realizing that he might not have arthritis. Audrina had found him worthy of her love when she thought him ill, even while challenging his certainty that he in fact has arthritis. Their HEA was lovely, but it would have been more satisfyingly romantic for me if he chose to believe in a future for them together with or without arthritis