Beauty and the Brooding Lord
I enjoyed Sarah Mallory’s last book, The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake, and looked forward to reading its loosely linked follow-up. Beauty and the Brooding Lord is similarly charming and romantic, featuring an appealing pair of principal characters – opposites who bring out the best in each other – and the romance hooked me from beginning to end. Unfortunately, what should have been a simple transformative love story is overburdened with one too many subplots, and the traumatic event that initially linked the principal couple isn’t treated with quite the gravitas it deserves. This is a charming and romantic novel masquerading as something darker… and it only partly succeeds.
Lady Serena longs to meet a man who engages both her heart and mind, but after two years on the marriage mart, she still hasn’t met him. Her eldest half-brother (and guardian) Henry continues to introduce her to wealthy and eligible suitors, but she’s dismissed each of them: too old, too boring, too dull… none of them excite her. Witnessing her beloved half-brother Russ (Charles Russington from The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake) fall head over heels in love, she’s decided to find a rake of her own.
When the story opens, she’s agreed to a secret rendezvous with renowned libertine Sir Timothy Forsbrook, and escaped the watchful attention of her sister-in-law, Lady Hambridge. Arriving at the assignation, she’s anxious but hopeful… until she realizes the man in front of her isn’t Sir Timothy. This man is a big, towering and scowling stranger. He brusquely informs her that there was another gentleman there, but that he kicked him out after he presumed to suggest he should leave instead. The man then scathingly tells her she’ll have to find somewhere else for her lovemaking, and teases her when she refutes his assumptions. Serena flees back to the tedium of the ballroom, only to discover her grumpy stranger is Lord Rufus Quinn, a wealthy and reclusive bachelor. Spotting him engaged in conversation with another guest, she surreptitiously studies him and his slightly scruffy appearance, and decides he isn’t worthy of her attention.
Rufus Quinn rarely ventures into London. He has no time for or interest in society, and only attended Lord Grindleshams’ ball in order to arrange the purchase of a painting that Grindlesham was selling from his collection. He later discovered his attendance was wholly unnecessary – Quinn had only to name his price and the painting was his, so the evening was a waste of time spent amongst people he hates. After getting a late start leaving town for his home in Hertfordshire, he stops to refresh himself at a local inn. Nearing midnight he’s reading his curricle to depart when he hears a faint cry. When that cry is followed up with a sharp scream, Quinn doesn’t hesitate. He barges into a guest room, knocking out a man who attempts to attack him, and spots a young lady cowering in the corner. He manages to coax her out and gently wraps her trembling, bruised body in a blanket before escorting her out of the room. After a brief conversation with the innkeeper reveals there are no suitable females available to act as chaperone for her return journey to London, he opts to take her to his home and place her in the care of his housekeeper. He issues a warning to the innkeeper to forget the incident ever happened, and departs with the lady bundled up on the seat beside him.
The near victim, as you might have guessed, is Lady Serena. After agreeing to another rendezvous with Sir Timothy at Vauxhall, he kidnapped her – intending to bed her and marry her for her fortune. But his plan goes awry when Serena resists and is then rescued by Quinn. Romancelandia fans know where this story is going (and the blurb reveals it if you don’t), but Ms. Mallory shakes things up – focusing instead on the repercussions of the near rape on our heroine. Serena is devastated and depressed after the attack, and she loses interest in all the things that once brought her pleasure. She mistrusts herself and her instincts, and doubts Quinn’s gestures of affection. Quinn persists, giving her space and coaxing her into believing in herself once again, but she struggles. Her sister-in-law, who barely tolerated Serena whilst she was living with them, plants additional seeds of doubt and failure, and the bulk of the novel is spent watching Serena struggle to regain confidence in herself and her feelings for Quinn. There has always been a thread of attraction between them, and she must learn to forgive herself for the bad decisions that led her into Sir Timothy’s clutches. It’s a painful journey of self-discovery.
With its depiction of a heroine struggling to overcome the trauma of an attempted sexual assault, Beauty and the Brooding Lord is darker than the fairytale-esque (she’s the beauty, he’s the beast) marriage of convenience it purports to be. Serena’s recovery and the sweetly evolving relationship with the ever protective and loving Quinn are highlights of the story. Unfortunately, the author tacks on several unnecessary subplots – Quinn’s revenge on Sir Timothy, Serena’s unpleasant relationships with her vindictive sister-in-law and selfish, absentee mother, and a last minute misunderstanding with Quinn – and they overcomplicate this love story. Like Russ in the previous book, Quinn is a wonderful hero; strong, handsome, gentle, tender and protective, and he somehow intuits exactly what Serena needs to overcome her demons. Serena, like Molly before her, takes a while to warm up to; she’s complex, but frustrating. Formerly bright and vivacious, her confidence and happiness are diminished by the attack; she perseveres anyway – breathing new life into Quinn’s quiet existence, and gently nudging him out of his comfort zone – even as she struggles to break out of her own. Unfortunately, her propensity for impulsive, hasty decisions with disastrous consequences challenged this reader, and when she nearly sabotages her chance at happiness with Quinn by jumping to inaccurate conclusions I wanted to shake some sense into her. Although I liked them separately and together very much, I think it’s a bit of a stretch for Ms. Mallory to imply love heals all. Sir Timothy’s much deserved comeuppance also reads as slightly contrived and ridiculous. Ultimately, I wish the author had focused more on the evolving dynamic between Quinn and Serena, and her recovery, and less on ancillary subplots that add little value to the novel.
Beauty and the Brooding Lord is an engaging love story. I liked the principal characters and the plot contrivance resulting in their arranged marriage, but unfortunately, too many unnecessary subplots featuring undeveloped, one-dimensional secondary characters detract from the overall success of the novel. I recommend it with reservations.