A Most Unsuitable Man
Remember when everyone was “waiting for Rothgar”? Well, he’s back in a secondary role in Jo Beverley’s newest Malloren book. Like its predecessors, it’s set in Georgian England, when men were men – but got to wear really cool pretty clothes. I have to confess that I am a relative novice where Beverley is concerned; I’ve read only one of her books in the past. I liked it enough to glom much of her backlist, and I think I probably have all of the Malloren books, but this is the first I’ve read. I’m certainly intrigued enough to read more.
Damaris Myddleton has an odd background. Raised by her mother in fairly modest circumstances, she rarely saw her father, who traveled frequently for business. Eventually, he died while abroad. When her mother died two years later, Damaris was astonished to learn that she was an heiress. Not just any heiress, but once of the wealthiest heiresses in England. As the book begins, she is planning to marry Lord Ashart, an impoverished Marquess who definitely needs her money. Both are at a holiday house party at Rothgar’s home. Unfortunately, Ashart is already in love with someone else, and when he announces his engagement to this someone else, Damaris reacts badly. Publicly humiliated, Damaris decides to flee the house party. Just as she’s about to leave, Octavius Fitzroger catches up with her. Her persuades her to stay, and offers a plan to save her reputation. He will flirt with her and she will flirt back. Everyone will see that she is not devastated by Ashart’s engagement. Meanwhile, she will also ask Rothgar to take over as her guardian (her current one can’t quite handle the job).
The plan works. Rothgar astonishingly agrees to become her guardian, even though he hardly knows her. She flirts with Fitzroger, though she is warned that he is completely unsuitable. He doesn’t have any money, and he has some mysterious blot on his reputation. Damaris doesn’t particularly mind, since she has no intention of getting serious with him. As the holidays wind down, Ashart’s annoying aunt wants to leave the party. Rothgar manipulates Damaris and Fitzroger into leaving as well, so they depart along with Ashart, his fiancé Genova, and two of his aunts.
Though most people think Fitzroger is just Ashart’s lazy and poor companion, he is actually working for the government. For years during the wars, Fitzroger served as a bodyguard to important government officials. Almost no one knew about this. Now he is serving as Ashart’s bodyguard, trying to protect him from an attempt on his life. Because the circumstances are so secret, even Ashart himself is unaware that Fitzroger is protecting him. As the group travels, there is an apparent attempt on Genova’s life. This puts everyone on edge, but Fitzroger manages to convince them that it was an accident. When they arrive at Ashart’s home, Fitzroger begins poking around, trying to figure out why Ashart’s life is in danger.
Damaris knows something is up, and she comes to Fitzroger’s aid in an unsuspected way. Meanwhile, she has been spending more time with him, and she really likes him. She starts to wonder whether a marriage between them would be possible. After all, she’s an heiress. She could aim for a duke, but why not marry a man she loves? Fitzroger, on the other hand, considers himself unmarriageable. The problems form his past seem insurmountable, and he plans to leave England for America as soon as the threat to Ashart’s life is resolved.
Though the plot is somewhat complicated and hard to describe, its execution is nearly seamless. Fans of intrigue and danger are likely to enjoy it, and there are layers that I haven’t even touched upon. It’s never confusing – even if, like me, you’ve never read a book in this series. Most of the time it is fairly organic as well, and the characters behave in ways that make sense. The exception to this is all the secrecy surrounding Ashart and the threat to his life. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense that he couldn’t know about it, and it often seemed like Fitzroger’s task – protecting Ashart secretly, without knowing the source of the danger – was nearly impossible. Not only impossible, but unnecessarily difficult.
However, that’s a relatively minor complaint. Most of the time I really enjoyed Fitzroger and Damaris. Both of them are unique characters, and their interactions had an authenticity often missing in historical romances. Fitzroger is quite serious about his complete unsuitability, and he has no intention of marrying. Nonetheless, he never comes off as a jerk about it. He really wants to help Damaris, and his motives for doing so are selfless. He doesn’t plan on falling in love with her, and when he does, he is determined to deny himself. Damaris doesn’t quite understand the nature of the obstacles in their path, and occasionally she blunders badly. However, she’s very self-aware. Her unique upbringing gives her a plucky competence. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, but she also recognizes when she’s done the wrong thing. In other words, she’s a grown-up.
The secondary characters are enjoyable here, but thankfully they stay on the fringe where they belong. This is Damaris and Fitzroger’s story, and Rothgar, having had his tale told already, is content to mostly watch from the sidelines. However, his appeal is obvious; I can see why at one point everyone was waiting for his story. His sophisticated, controlling personality is delicious. I also found Ashart and his various family members likable and interesting. My personal favorite was his whist-playing aunt Thalia, who appears to be somewhat crazed but ends up being quite insightful and very helpful in the end.
A Most Unsuitable Man was most enjoyable – I found the storyline quite engrossing, and liked and admired the characters. But I didn’t love or adore them, so in the end this is a good read, but not a great one. Nonetheless, I plan to read the rest of them sometime. Perhaps you could say I’m “waiting for the time to read Rothgar.”