The Figure of Love
Minerva Spencer’s A Figure of Love is described as an historical romance where a widowed sculptor falls in love with the man who’s employed her to design his garden, which sounded interesting. I like the setup where two people who are strangers to each other have to work on some sort of major project. However, like the previous novel in the Academy of Love series, this book suffers from a surfeit of melodrama. But I’ll get to that.
The story begins when Gareth Lockheart, an immensely wealthy industrialist, decides to make his country estate fit for a king, which means beautifully designed gardens with sculptures and fountains and so on. He hires an architect who immediately outsources the outdoor work to a French sculptor/landscape gardener, Mrs. Serena Lombard, who’s also the widow of a duke’s youngest son. Because of the amount of work, Gareth asks Serena and her ten-year-old son to move into his house, and he soon becomes fascinated with her. This is a rarity for him, since Gareth feels uncomfortable around people and doesn’t like being touched, preferring to escape into a world of mathematics. Likewise, Serena isn’t looking for a relationship, but before long she can’t stop thinking about how handsome her employer is.
So at first this was a story about two people who like each other, get along well together, and have great sex. There were a few details of sculpture and landscape gardening along the way, but that was just the means to bring Gareth and Serena together. I never felt that her profession permeated and influenced the story like the sculpting in Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember. Serena’s son is one of those children who bonds swiftly and easily with his future step-parent, so everything in the garden is lovely.
Which is why, I suppose, the soap opera had to begin. There’s a Big Mis where Gareth sees a villain force a kiss on Serena (does Gareth talk to her about it? What do you think?), followed by blackmail, a rape attempt, not one but two kidnappings, Dark Secrets involving rape and child molestation, a villain hoist on his own petard, and way too much time devoted to Gareth’s best friend who’s clearly being set up as the hero of some future book. In fact, the entire epilogue is the friend chatting to some half-drunk earl he just met, to the point where I wondered if he and the earl would get it on. I actually perked up here since that would have been the one unpredictable moment in the story. Sad spoiler alert: it didn’t happen.
As for the characters, I liked Serena until she gave into the blackmail (just as the heroine of the previous book did, so it was repetitive as well as annoying). Gareth, unfortunately, feels like a collection of traits rather than a three-dimensional person. He’s into mathematics at the start, but never does anything significant with that and soon abandons it as he becomes a Real Boy. And I’m beyond tired of the caricature of a scientist as someone with no social skills. The two of them are very compatible in bed, and rut with great enthusiasm and no concern for pregnancy between the kidnapping episodes, so readers who like detailed sex scenes might enjoy these parts of the story at least.
But there was one incident which I’ll spoil because it made me a bit uneasy. About halfway through the story, Serena’s son goes to Gareth’s study and invites him to come fishing. Gareth can’t fish, but he goes along, and Serena later finds them both stripped down to their drawers, frolicking in the lake.
The scene is set up to be titillating, with Serena getting a good view of Gareth (no shrinkage here!). But she doesn’t really know him, he’s her employer, and he and her son are swimming together all but naked without her knowledge. I’m not a parent and perhaps this sort of thing was acceptable in the past, but I didn’t feel comfortable about it. Maybe this is just me, though, and other readers won’t mind it?
Ultimately, I won’t be trying any of the other books in this series. Twice bitten and all that. I’m sure readers who enjoy the author’s storytelling style and who know what they’re in for will like A Figure of Love but I can’t recommend it to anyone else.