By Love Undone
By Love Undone should perhaps be subtitled The Great Pretender because I was thoroughly convinced this was a major keeper throughout nearly the first half. Then the book turned from major keeper to a series of eye-rolling episodes that seemed too clichéd given the inventive first half. Yes, the lead characters I’d fallen in love with were there throughout, but it was as though they’d lost some of their stuffing and nearly become rag dolls.
When Quinlan Bancroft, Marquis of Warefield, arrives at his uncle’s home in the country to make sure the estate and his uncle are alright (his uncle has been ill), he is not met with sweetness and light. Oh no, he’s met with Madeleine Willits, his uncle’s beautiful paid companion who hates the nobility. She treats him with wickedly comical disdain, and soon this all-too-ordered gentleman finds himself knee deep in mud, chasing after pigs, and contemplating why his uncle’s mistress seems to be enjoying his discomfort.
Of course Maddie is no mistress. A scandalous kiss forced her from London several years before, and she’s made a new life for herself running the estate. Try as she might to hate Quinlan, who will one day be a duke, she finds herself kissing Quin, who feels so bad (and so good!) about causing another scandal that he promises his Uncle Malcolm he will reintroduce Maddie into society so she can catch a husband. Quin, of course, is unavailable for the job because he’s already engaged. Maddie, of course, wants no part of this – she’s endured the mistaken notions of the local gentry for years now, and is quite satisfied working for Malcolm. But Malcolm has schemed long and hard for Maddie to take her rightful place in Society, and she is convinced to go. Of course, Malcolm has other schemes in mind, as the reader will later discover.
It is at this point that By Love Undone unraveled. Once the two go to Town, we are introduced to Quin’s family. His father, the Duke, is such a wretched excuse for a human being that one wonders how Quin and his yummy brother Rafe ever turned out as well as they did. The Duke is cliché number one, and Quin’s fiancée cliché number two. The beautiful Eloise is pure evil, a cat with claws who hones in on Quin’s feelings for Maddie and immediately sets out to destroy her.
So much of what occurred in the first half of the book was broad comedy, and it worked wonderfully. Once in London, nearly everything (except the Duke and Maddie) was subtle, and author seemed to go overboard. When Quin finally figures out that Eloise is sabotaging Maddie, I almost missed it. When Quin’s mother finally comes around to Maddie’s side, I almost missed it. I definitely missed the enjoyment I’d found when Maddie and Quin were in the country. In Town I only felt twinges of it, and that was when they were together, which seemed to be not often enough.
Maddie was a heroine you don’t often come across in historicals – have you ever read a book where the heroine belts a gentleman for ungentlemanly behavior at the opera? I thoroughly enjoyed her; she was smart, strong, and reminded me of an Amanda Quick heroine. Quinlan was equally lovable – he put up with a lot of crap before deciding love is more important than duty.
Suzanne Enoch shows promise; even though this book was uneven, I look forward to the sequel (you can bet Rafe’s story isn’t far behind). If she can mellow out her villains so they are less one-note characters and keep the hero and heroine more in their element, she’ll have a winner the next time around. I certainly hope the Duke has mellowed by then, and that Maddie and Quin can move back to the country where they belong.