Sherry Thomas writes in her acknowledgements that Duran's Duke of Shadows inspired her to write Not Quite a Husband, a very different book. An award-wSherry Thomas writes in her acknowledgements that Duran's Duke of Shadows inspired her to write Not Quite a Husband, a very different book. An award-winning author, her writing is smooth and the emotions are intense. People who enjoy the poignancy of heartbreak and scarred souls will get teary for the characters in a tale full of regret and not quite a happily ever after.
I picked up books by Joanna Bourne and Meredith Duran on the recommendation of an urban fantasy author who I admire. I hadn't really read historical romance before; the titles and covers had me highly skeptical. Delighted to discover, then, how well written the novels turned out to be, with compelling plot lines and characters who are interesting and likeable, with some edgy darkness in Duran's novels that adds depth I like.
For this one, I agree with readers who raise some basic points about the character building and plot development. Why would an intensely personal heroine go through with the marriage, instead of breaking it off privately and running away from an intensely awful emotional situation? I know, I know, verisimilitude isn't a watch word for even the best plot lines in a fantasy, which all romance novels are to a greater or lesser extent. Bourne and Duran don't hit a home run with every book, and maybe this one by Thomas isn't the very top of her game. But, in good fantasy novels, you don't raise the common sense questions because you're there, caught up in a satisfyingly intense story, fascinated with characters that you not only like, but want to like, too.
Bryony is almost there, but we're told of her intelligence rather than seeing it in action the way we do in Thomas' His at Night, a more lighthearted approach to a couple who marry then fall in love. There, the enemy is deliciously Dickensian; here, the central characters are the villains. Bryony is too iron-clad in her impenetrable armor, and glimpses of her acting out on intense emotions, even out of sight of other characters, would have been a good foreshadowing from a craft perspective and won the reader to her side even if Leo and everyone else was perplexed by her. Leo is too golden, apart from his great mistake, with an over the top infatuation with Bryony, which also makes his choice of rebellion, on which everything hinges, and then his rather cold calculation about the marriage when they return to England seem out of character. Other readers say similar things in reviews here.
For me, and this is just a personal quirk: I do not enjoy movies that make me feel embarrassed along with the characters. I really did not enjoy feeling devastated right along with Bryony (view spoiler)[, wishing like her that I could wipe away the experience of overhearing Leo and a former lover talking casually, intimately, with long familiarity then seeing her fiance coming to his naked lover in bed before Bryony ran from the place. I burned with hurt all over again when she finally tells him that she heard and saw them; he confirms there was no misunderstanding. He didn't stop himself after the point when she left. It wasn't a heat of the moment fall into temptation or a misjudgment while he was drunk; he confirms that it was a meditated decision that he carried through, concealed and forgot about without having a thought about how much it would hurt his intensely private fiancee. (hide spoiler)] Thomas had me feeling the character's deep shame and hurt. Personally, I don't take pleasure in feeling emotional betrayal, and the culminating theme of regret and saying sorry wasn't satisfying for me.
So, Not Quite a Husband is right for the right reader, but I'll cheer for the witty, lighthearted Thomas characters of His at Night instead....more