An Inconvenient Match
There’s one big problem with An Inconvenient Match: it’s not a romance novel. It’s a decent comedy of manners, a good portrait of life in Regency England, but a romance? Nope. But it might have worked as an erotic short story, if it weren’t as cold as a corpse on an autopsy table.
Honoria Albina Botham is doing her duty. At least that’s what tells herself as she marries drunken rake Jasper Edward Martin “Ash” Thorpe, Earl of Ashland, who has such little respect for her and their marriage that he shows up to their wedding drunk.
Honoria harbors no illusions about entering into some sort of romantic relationship with Ash. She’s marrying him for one simple reason; her elevation to the rank of peeress is something her beloved grandmother would have wanted. But her other motivation involves shedding the weight of spinsterhood and finally getting to Do the Deed. Yep, Honoria mostly enters into this marriage to get her blossom plucked and didn’t want to risk the shame, disease or out-of-wedlock pregnancy other options offered. Unfortunately, a drunken Ash can’t even provide her that much and turns into a one-pump chump when the lights are out.
Ash is blatantly Not Attracted to tall, flat-chested Honoria, but he, too, is doing his duty by uniting their families. He needs the fortune that Honoria’s dowry provides him to save the crumbling walls of the family estate but he’s furious to discover that the marriage contract they signed (and which he didn’t bother to read closely) means that Honoria retains control of her own finances and thus can dictate how the two of them live. (Which I believe was actually not possible at this point in England, as the Married Women’s Property Act was not passed until 1870). It’s bad enough that he’s married a flat chested near spinster, but he’s now unable to drink himself to death using her money! How dare she!
Honoria shrugs at his anger and settles down to correct the financial mistakes that have kept Ashland Park from prospering in spite of the constant snubbing she receives at the hands of Ash’s mother, who dislikes Honoria’s lower social status and believes the estate’s financial matters should be handled by her dissolute (and useless) son. As the year progresses, Honoria guides Ash’s little sister through her first season, handles the family’s business, weathers a scandal set in motion by Ash’s late father, and tries to be seen as worthy of her new title by a society that scorns her at every turn. Ash, too, tries to figure out who he is as a man and not a party-hearty Thorpe. Will they ever find affection with one another?
The answer is yes. Well, at least part of Ash develops feelings – the southern part. An Inconvenient Match tries to take the old marriage of convenience trope and twist it into bold, new shapes. What, it asks, if your average lower class spinster type married that Arthur-style drunken rake before his must-grow-up epiphany? Answer: misery.
I did love the heroine. Honoria is a fine main character, even if her reasons for wanting to be part an aristocracy that hates her for being a merchant-class mining heiress made no sense to me. She’s strong and sturdy and does a damn fine job taking care of everything Ash was too immature to handle. Her friendship with Margaret was downright adorable and sisterly, and a relief from the hellscape of her relationship with Ash.
Ash is, for majority of the novel, the most useless, empty-headed hero I’ve ever read in my life. He charges about whining while doing All The Things Regency Rakes Do, all the while pouting that HE is the earl and HE should be making the decisions around here while showing no leadership skills whatsoever. At least he pitches in when things begin to collapse – literally- around their ears, but since he does not stop his infernal complaining while doing so, I refuse to give him credit for it. He has absolutely no bedroom skills unless he’s driven to use them and even less charm in the drawing room; he is for the most part smarmy, pouty and creepy. I wanted to believe in his third-act turnaround but couldn’t; I ended up pitying the mistresses and doxies who endured his favors before Honoria.
Their chemistry is lukewarm, at best. Normally I adore tough heroines who attract heroes they can shut up with a single glare, but what can you say for a couple who doesn’t bother to communicate in the bedroom or elsewhere? Ash doesn’t think giving Honoria orgasms is a worthwhile activity because he’s not attracted to her – until he jerks off while spying on her taking a bath and realizes she has a “delectable derriere” (yes, our hero is stupid enough to have stuck his dick inside her while either being drunk or the both of them were fully clothed up until this point.) They barely talk. They have better sex after the voyeurism incident, which slaps a Band-Aid on Ash’s selfishness and dissolute self-centered cruelty.
I liked only one character in this whole novel – Margaret, Ash’s bubbly younger sister. A plot involving her running off to a hasty Gretna Green marriage because she’s angry about her father’s infidelity ruining her family’s reputation is a thousand times more compelling than anything Honoria and Ash do. The other decent part involves Malcolm’s ability to capture the cadence of the era, its manners and speech.
Perhaps too well, because she made me feel like I was watching an historical documentary instead of reading a piece of romantic fiction. The inconvenient truth about An Inconvenient Match is that it has no idea it’s supposed to be a love story.