Besotted with the Viscount
There’s no genre more time-tested and beloved in the romance genre than the Regency. It’s drummed up a lot of interesting writers lately, and Susanna Malcolm joins their ranks with Besotted by the Viscount, an exploration of the poor heroine/rich scarred minor aristocracy trope that’s always been a staple of the genre.
When Captain Lord Gideon Birch moves to the tiny town of Littleover, he immediately engages the services of a young woman who so impresses him with her intellect that he decides she is just what he needs to catalog the enormous store of books he liberated from the enemy during the war of 1812.
Recently orphaned Theadosia – Thea – Ridley is more concerned with keeping her enfeebled elderly servant and substitute mother Agatha alive than in maintaining the run down estate her parents have left her. With a broken engagement to a man she thought she loved behind her, Thea feels too wounded to contemplate romance and she has little to no idea about the elegant, semi-famous and dashing Captain Lord Gideon’s exploits until her gossipy best friend Susan informs her of his status. Thea’s mind soon wanders from their business arrangement.
As Thea becomes indispensible in Gideon’s life, so he becomes a source of support and strength in hers, Thea must battle nasty rumors and her own self-protective instincts to make a stab at true happiness, while Gideon struggles with his battle scars, his limp and cane speaking of a deeper trauma – a trauma that’s embittered him and left him in self-isolation.
When his hero-worshipping nephew announces that he wants to join the royal navy just like uncle Gideon, a fearful argument ensues between Gideon and Thea. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and when a figure from Thea’s past arrives to complicate things still further, there’s just question left – can she and Gideon figure out how to negotiate a love match in the face of such discord?
Besotted with the Viscount succeeds on two points; as a character study of two lost, wounded souls and as a romance between those two souls. It’s hard to get into the traumatized mind of a war victim with credibility, but Malcolm manages to do so.
Thea is stiff-backed and tough, determined not to be hurt after her long romantic ordeal. She’s harder to sympathize with than Gideon, but it is a point you will eventually reach. I began to like her better when she began to fight back against the expectations of the people of Littleover and their presumptions about her life.
Gideon is deeply scarred and fierce, loving and foolish, tough and weak. He’s a good lion-with a-thorn in his paw hero; a sympathetic guy who’s easy to like. His romantic persuit of Thea is complex, as is her attraction to him; they’re adults who have survived much trauma and often have to bite the inside of their cheeks to keep from screaming. They understand one another on a deep, emotional level before they hit the sheets, and it’s easy to become bewitched by the attraction between them.
The supporting characters are quite interesting in their own right. Thea’s lively friend Susan is true-blue and bubbleheaded to the point of making me wish that the next story in the series might be about her, and Gideon’s stubborn sister Lady Sarah, mischievous cousins and nephews and nieces and fearless mother are all solid characters. Even Gideon’s giant friendly hounds, Helen and Thor, are a cutely inoffensive presence (though one does wonder what happened to them at the end of the book)
The story does bear a few flaws in the form of logic holes and terminology errors. Gideon, for instance, looted books he can’t read during the war because other soldiers were burning them in favor of carrying off jewels instead. This is informative of his level of intelligence but seems too indulgent for someone like him. Mild inaccuracies of speech also exist; at one point Gideon describes loving Thea as “so friggin’ good”, for instance.
All in all, though, Besotted with the Viscount is a lovely experience that makes you care about the people in the story. It comes with a happy recommendation from this reviewer.