Improper Relations is a delightful book, one I enjoyed from start to finish. Told from the first person point of view – of both the hero and the heroine, alternately – it has a plot that is familiar enough. The hero and heroine are caught in a compromising position and forced to marry, and eventually they fall in love with each other. But the characters are interesting and unique, and the interesting use of POV means we get to hear their story in their own words.
Charlotte Hayden’s family is in deep despair about her marriage prospects. She’s not bad looking, but she’s simply too blunt for fashion and has little interest in polite chit chat. Her mother’s abominable taste in clothes is doing her no favors either. Now that her best friend Ann has just married (and married very well), Charlotte’s chances are looking even worse in comparison.
Viscount Shadderly (known as Shad) is Ann’s husband’s best friend. Though he’s a known rake, he finds something alluring about the awkward Charlotte. But they are married almost before they know what hit them; an attempt at rescue, a walk in the garden, and impulsive kiss after a fall in the grass all result in a hasty marriage ceremony.
Shad has every intention of continuing as he has before. A former naval officer, he has only recently come to town. He figures he will set himself up with an attractive mistress and see Charlotte only occasionally at social functions. Instead, he sleeps with her on his wedding night and is completely besotted. Who would have thought he would want to leave social functions just so he can sleep with his wife?
Charlotte is a little more reserved. She is not entirely sure that Shad intends to be faithful to her, and she also has concerns about Ann (who confides that she is not happy with the marriage bed, and also reveals a shocking secret). Ann and her husband Berresford figure prominently in the plot in several ways. Berresford is under the (mistaken) impression that Charlotte is in love with him, and he confides his feelings to Shad, who is jealous. Misunderstandings abound, and then their lives become further complicated when Shad becomes ill. Both Shad and Charlotte navigate through unfamiliar waters as they try to figure out how to deal with their feelings and their somewhat unconventional marriage.
A lot of this sounds like stuff you’ve seen before. Okay, I take that back: All of it sounds like stuff you’ve seen before. Why aren’t the misunderstandings annoying? Why is the virgin-spinster-marries-rake plot not annoying? I credit Mullany’s writing style, the unusual POV, and the attention to detail. Mullany has a unique voice, and it comes through in the writing and the characters. I liked both Shad and Charlotte in no small part because I heard their stories in their words – and because I found them funny. Humor is, of course, subjective. But their wry observations seemed fresh and unique. I am also something of a sucker for first person POV anyway; obviously if a third-person purist would not be as big a fan as I.
But I also found that the little details made the story come alive, especially with the secondary characters. Shad’s sister plays a small but important part, and Charlotte’s well-meaning but vulgar parents are also well-portrayed. Even small things, like a clumsy footman with enormous feet and too small shoes, add depth to the story.
Over all, I found Improper Relations to be refreshing, delightful and funny. It’s well worth taking the time to find it, even if it’s not on the shelf in most US bookstores.