How to Best a Marquess
How to Best a Marquess possesses an interesting storyline and the writing is good, but sadly, the main characters never grabbed my interest and the central conflict could have been resolved with one good conversation. Instead of falling in love along with the hero and heroine, I fell in frustration.
Lady Ellie Swift desperately wants to take over the Raven Club (a gambling den) when her brother the Earl of Castleton retires as club owner. She already works there behind the scenes and, after an early romantic disaster, seeks only to be an independent woman. Hugh Vere, the Marquess of Deveril, wants the club as well. The Earl of Castleton suggests a contest – they should each put their ideas for the club into practice for one month and then see whose ideas are more profitable.
Unfortunately, Hugh is Ellie’s early romantic disaster. At eighteen, they were in love until one night Ellie saw Hugh kissing another woman. It’s been five long years since then and things have changed for Hugh – he unexpectedly inherited his title. When he last knew Ellie, Hugh was the penniless, untitled second son of a Marquess. (Except that no, younger sons of a Marquess have the courtesy title of Lord). Now, Ellie wants nothing to do with the new Hugh – her heart has barely mended and she has no interest in risking it again. She wants the independence the club would give her but she also wants to use the club to help battered wives leave London and start new lives elsewhere. She has already been doing this on the sly and plans to continue her efforts in a larger way once the club is hers. The contest begins and Ellie and Hugh spend the next few weeks in a game of cat and mouse – Hugh being the cat.
Many times while reading How to Best a Marquess, I wanted to lock Ellie and Hugh in a room because each of their interactions is packed with half-truths and misunderstandings. Hugh had his reasons for kissing the other woman (not good ones) but he hems and haws his way around the truth for way too long. And Ellie keeps pretending to herself and Hugh that she is not interested in a relationship with him for a frustratingly long time. I also wanted to just send Hugh packing because if he had loved Ellie since he was eighteen and was really just trying to protect her when he kissed the other woman, then where has he been since he gained his title and why are we told that he’s been with “widows, actresses, and dancers” and “last mistresses”? If we are to believe that he loved Ellie, how are we to reconcile the fact that he did not come to her right away after inheriting his marquisate? We are never told why it took Hugh so long to seek out Ellie.
I wanted to like this book more; the writing is good, the premise could work, Ellie is trying to do something honorable. But in the end I was just frustrated by the main characters, all the unanswered questions, and a story that just didn’t bring anything new to the table. How to Best a Marquess is the second book in the Raven Club series but reads fine as a stand-alone. I don’t think I’ll follow the series as this one just fell flat for me.