Desert Isle Keeper
How to Marry a Marquis
Julia Quinn’s How to Marry a Marquis is marvelous entertainment. I haven’t read this author for a couple of years now, and as someone who gave her debut romance, Splendid, DIK status, I’ve shied away from her most recent releases for fear of being disappointed. In the interim, she’s obviously learned more about her craft. How to Marry a Marquis features the same wonderful wit, friendships, and family ties as does Splendid, but it also features far more depth in terms of plotting and better character development. If you are looking for a regency-era historical featuring two very lovable characters and don’t mind a modern sensibility shining through, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Elizabeth Hotchkiss has raised her three younger siblings alone for the past five years after her parents’ deaths. The cottage is paid up, but how will she send brother Lucas to Eton when it’s time? Her job as a lady’s companion to eccentric Lady Danbury only pays the bills. When she spies the book How to Marry a Marquis in the Lady’s library, she gets an idea, one which younger sister Susan, who is 14 going on 30, encourages. She borrows the book from her employer and sets out to learn its edicts.
James Sidwell, Marquis of Riverdale, and Lady Danbury’s beloved nephew, is asked by his aunt to ferret out a blackmailer. This ex-spy who hasn’t known how to while away his days since the war, will disguise himself as his aunt’s estate manager to determine who the blackmailer is. Once Lizzie and James meet, their fate is a foregone conclusion – but how will they meet it? That’s the joy in reading Julia Quinn.
Elizabeth and Susan decide that since James is but a lowly estate manager, he’ll be the perfect man upon whom Lizzie can “practice.” Poor Lizzie hasn’t had any experience with men, and her idea of flirting ends up being a discussion of the properties of turnips. Eventually, of course, once James learns what she’s up to, he decides her lessons should focus on kissing and boxing, though not necessarily in that order.
What makes this book more than a pleasant romp comes from the development of the characters and plot. Neither Elizabeth nor James has had an easy time of it, but they don’t take out their suffering on the world. When they do share their histories, it brings them closer together. When conflict does arise, author Quinn doesn’t punish the reader with the revelation of a big secret, then a tear-filled break-up, eventually leading to a reconciliation. Yes, there is a big secret, but the time in-between it and the reconciliation is filled with hilarity rather than sorrow, which better fits the tone of the book. (My main criticism of Quinn’s Minx, was that there was an imbalance in tone due to the introduction of a conflict far too dark for the rest of the book.) By bringing in the hero and heroine from To Catch an Heiress, and allowing them and Lady Danbury (and her malcontented cat Malcolm) to interact with Lizzie and James, we are treated to what this author does best – bringing together family and friends and using them as comic foils.
Just about everything comes together in this book. And even my quibbles are minor. Elizabeth’s siblings, although fun to read, are too young to be as clever as they were in this book. Believe me, I have a precocious child, but she mostly acts her age. While I hope Julia Quinn writes a romance for 14-year-old Susan when it’s time, her behavior in this book is that of an adult, not a teenager. And, those readers who dislike historical anachronisms will likely roll their eyes at some very modern vernacular – did people in the early 1800’s go to “the market” or comment on “methods of parenting?” Finally, the book is light on overt sensuality, although the author’s focusing on James’ feelings of lust throughout the story compensate for that rather nicely.
How to Marry a Marquis is romantic and funny and is a terrific showcase for the growth of Julia Quinn’s talent. She continues to shine as a master of humor, as a writer of strong relationships between women, and as a creator of characters who like each other, slow burns aside, as they fall in love. And, she has learned to create depth in her characters without throwing the over-all balance of her stories out of whack. Books like this make me glad I read romance.