Irresistible is very nearly so. While its flawless descriptions of life in Regency England are effectively combined with an intriguing romance, it misses the mark in this way. Regency norms and morés dictated a strict limit to the range of emotions people were allowed to openly express. When these same constraints are applied to writing about the era, events and feelings are subtly altered, resulting in a loss of intense emotion. While Sophia Armitage and Nathaniel Gascoigne may have experienced love and passion in all its glory, or at its darkest depths, in their own hearts and minds, this reader only encountered the lows. Irresistible didn’t achieve the necessary balance between the ups-and-downs, and, as a result, was a most melancholy read.
Sophia is a widow who had followed her husband to war. In following the drum, she had met Nathaniel and his three comrades, known to one and all as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for their bravery and acts of daring-do. After the war, the government gave Sophia a pension and home, thus ensuring her security. Of late, however, Sophia has been troubled by “the worries” – she is being blackmailed, and her limited wealth and hard-won independence are threatened.
Nathaniel is a wealthy man in his early thirties. He’s in London for the Season to marry off his youngest sister, and perhaps his cousin Lavinia, as well. Unless she marries, which she is loath to do, Lavinia won’t be granted her inheritance until she turns the age of thirty.
Nathaniel and his comrades come across Sophia in the park. Although she is as friendly as ever, she looks somewhat dowdy (not that she ever looked all that good, frankly). The Four Horsemen had always seen, and continue to see, Sophia as “one of the guys,” so they feel free to discuss things in her presence that no lady of good breeding should hear. Some of those things I didn’t wish to hear either. Certainly, well-bred gentlemen of the period kept mistresses and frequented whorehouses, but those are not my favorite topics to read about. While the men’s conversations demonstrated the easy camaraderie between them, I found their many discussions, about whores in particular, detracted from my enjoyment of this book.
But I digress. The connection between Sophia and the four men is re-established, and Lavinia and Sophia begin a friendship as well. Lavinia is clever, outspoken, and the relationship between these two women becomes crucial as Sophia’s dilemma becomes more worrisome. For, after Sophia’s friends attempt to give her blackmailer “the cut” at social functions, he begins to demand more and more from her.
Nathaniel escorts Sophia home one evening, and a simple kiss turns into a night of passion. They decide to have an affair – between equals. Both Sophia and Nathaniel are surprised by her passionate nature, and Nathaniel begins to suspect Sophia has purposely hidden her femininity and beauty behind that dowdy façade. But before he can find out why, the blackmailer steps up his efforts, and Sophia tries to cut herself off from anyone who can help her. She is embarrassed by the blackmail, the hidden secret that has made her vulnerable, and is determined to handle things on her own.
Unfortunately, she can’t. As a result, her relationship with Nathaniel is tested and threatened more than once. Sophia’s lot is an extremely difficult one and highlights, along with Lavinia’s inheritance woes, the plight of women. Lavinia’s personality, and the sparkling scenes written for her with Eden, one of the Four Horsemen, bring some light and fire into what is otherwise a very dreary situation.
This is a full-length Regency, and author Balogh’s talent at capturing the era shines through. But the Regency format lessened my enjoyment of the book. I so wanted to shake Nathaniel and Sophia at times, to force them to talk about their problems rather than having them hide behind a veneer of appropriate behavior. So many things remained unsaid, unfelt, or unacted upon because of the strictures of the time, it was frustrating to read, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to have been forced to live under such strict social confinement.
Does this mean I’m advocating anachronistic behavior? No – I’m simply pointing out the fact that sometimes books are unromantic to me because the treatment of the characters weighs me down, depresses me. Such was the case, ultimately, with Irresistible.