Believe in Me
Ella Quinn’s Worthingtons series concludes with its sixth volume, Believe in Me.
Lady Augusta Vivers yearns for a deeper education, and has embarked upon a written correspondence with multiple European professors and lessons with visiting scholars in order to obtain it. Fascinated by linguistics (she speaks over eight languages fluently) and geography, she hopes to travel to Padua, Italy and further her studies by gaining admission to the only university in Europe that accepts female students.
Her family blanches at the notion; doesn’t she want to marry? Well, no – not until she gets her degree will she willingly shackle herself down to hearth and home. But all of her gowns for the upcoming Season have already been ordered, and her anxious mother argues that a bit of polish would be good for her. Thus Augusta agrees to attend a Season without dropping the notion of going to university in Italy.
Lord Phineas – Phinn – Carter-Woods supports his interest in architecture by traveling around the world and would rather not shackle himself to any one woman, but his brother is nearly foaming at the mouth to have the title secured after his seven year old marriage has produced four lively girls in a row. Phinn promised to spend half the Season looking for a bride, but is already making plans for his next trip to Europe, which will be followed by more wife-hunting after he returns.
Enter Phinn’s sister-in-law and Augusta’s new friend, Helen, who thinks that introducing culture-hungry Augusta to worldly Phinn is a great idea. It is – they’re both quickly smitten – and so is much of society with Augusta, whose cool manner towards her suitors soon wins her an avalanche of showy proposals. In the end, the only man she actually likes is Phinn, who proposes – but then Augusta gets her hard-won University place and his reaction suggests he doesn’t truly love her. She rejects Phinn, and then accepts the offer of a trip across the continent with her cousins Jane and Hector, and her mother, hoping the scandal of Augusta’s pickiness will be behind her after the trip, agrees to it.
But Phinn, intrigued by their mutual interests and a percolating lust for Augusta, thinks that with time, love will grow. To persuade Augusta of the same, he invites himself on the trip along with his right-hand man, Boman, and soon finds himself traveling through Paris and looking out for Augusta as she plunges them into a boatload of trouble and adventure. Can the two of them hammer out a relationship that satisfies their yearning to be together while feeding their desires for travel and formal education?
Believe in Me has some enchanting good points, and others weak enough to make it something of a comedown from the last book I read in the series.
First, the good. The conflict between self and love is always a great one. Quinn continues to master her sense of place and time, and has a good grasp on Regency mores and behaviors. I also liked Augusta’s stubborn determination, her desire to take two years to finish rounding herself out before finding the right husband.
Phinn is a slightly less reserved personality, with unique interests and a penchant for being as stubborn as Augusta, and I liked his relationships with his brother and with Boman. He’s given an amazing scene at the end of the novel where he stands up for Augusta and her intellect and it’s a lovely, refreshing moment.
This is a very, very slow burn romance, and a lot of it suffers from Augusta internalizing her emotions about Phinn and denying herself what she wants – but can you blame her when the man’s first proposal is drier than zwieback in the Mojave? – while he trails her around, pushing and poking her into loving him by spoiling her and catering to her every wish. Yet I wish Phinn had at the very least given Augusta time to cool off and consider her feelings instead of immediately chasing her all over France; that was obsessive sub rom-com behavior and both characters deserved better. The two of them butt heads in increasingly irritating ways until the well into the second half of the book.
From Augusta’s point of view – what trade is that for her dreams of life and mental expansion? As much as she likes Phinn and feels suited to him, a loveless if passionate marriage is no trade for seeing the world as far as she’s concerned. While he has no plans to interfere with her travel plans, there were so many ways that they could have teamed up together to get Augusta her education while continuing an engagement that doesn’t require the excessive plot bric-a-brac that drags the novel down. And the reason for Phinn to be pursuing a wife with such haste is ludicrous, a plot point all of the characters point out but not before pages have been wasted on it. But that’s endemic of the plot in general. For two smart people to take all but the last hundred pages of the book to realize there’s no rule against married women attending college is, well, dumb.
Another reason for the middling grade is the flabby, long stretches between plot development. It feels as though we’re spinning our wheels at balls for ages while Augusta and Phinn do their denial dance before the action picks up at the midpoint and shifts to Europe.
There are also occasional coherency problems, such as, for example, when the author jumps back in time to have Phinn tell Lady Wolverton that her daughter is going to be attending the Italian university after we’ve just seen Augusta and her sister make arrangements to do just that. It feels like unnecessary padding.
Yet the general conflict, the research, the writing, and the characters all keep Believe in Me from crashing into the Dire D-grade territory. It’s a decent romance with some nicks and cuts and flaws.