It Takes Two to Tumble
It Takes Two to Tumble is the first book in a new series from Cat Sebastian entitled Seducing the Sedgwicks, which features a group of siblings who had a most unconventional, bohemian upbringing in a household comprising their father, his wife, his mistress and various itinerant hangers-on. This first instalment features the eldest son, Benedict, the vicar of the parish of St. Aelred’s in Cumberland, a deeply compassionate, kind, sensitive man who yearns for the ‘normal’ life he never had while growing up. The arrival at nearby Barton Hall of gruff, authoritarian naval captain Philip Dacre sees Benedict gradually coming to the realisation that perhaps he needs to re-define exactly what ‘normal’ means to him, in this touching, beautifully written, character-driven romance from the pen of Cat Sebastian.
Benedict Sedgwick is content with his lot. He is very well-liked by his parishioners, he has a secure living, and he is looking forward to marrying Alice Crawford, a young woman he has known since his youth and whom he regards as his best friend. For many years, the Crawfords:
… were his second family, had been from the time Ben realized that his own family was decidedly inadequate, and what was worse, not normal. The Crawfords had been fantastically normal: there was a sensible number of parents (two), a reasonable number of children (one) and, best of all, the desired number of those artistic hangers-on who seemed to colonize his father’s home (zero).
Alice and her parents were thus Ben’s refuge from the chaos and unpredictability of his own home when he was growing up. He cares greatly for them all, although while he loves Alice, he isn’t IN love with her… yet many couples marry without love, and his and Alice’s friendship is, surely, a strong basis for a lasting marriage. He firmly suppresses that little niggle at the back of his brain that tells him he is drawn to men rather than women; not that he’s ashamed of his preferences, it’s just he’s never really allowed his desires to take shape beyond that nebulous admission of a truth he has learned to supress in order to pursue his goal of living an unexceptional, ordinary life.
Philip Dacre, a captain in the Royal Navy, has spent the majority of his life at sea and has carved himself a successful career. But his childhood memories are tainted by his struggles with a learning difficulty and the feelings of inadequacy that rarely bother him aboard ship resurface at the prospect of returning home – something he has managed to avoid as often as possible.
He is also still grieving the death, just over a year before, of a fellow officer he very obviously loved; and while he misses his late wife, Caroline (who died a couple of years earlier while Philip was at sea), it’s clear that theirs was a marriage of mutual convenience. This is the first time Philip has been home since her death, and he’s completely adrift; he has seen his children only rarely since they were born (his eldest son is thirteen, the twins are nine) and he has no idea how to interact with them. All he really knows of them is from the reports he has received from his sister telling him that they are uncontrollable, unruly hellions who terrorise the neighbourhood and have run off countless governesses.
Both Ben and Philip have risen beyond their difficult childhoods, but have been shaped by them nonetheless, Ben learning early on that the only person he could depend upon was himself, and Philip that the best way to avoid disappointing those around him was to avoid them altogether. He’s the dark to Ben’s light, his taciturn, brooding presence a strong contrast to Ben’s sunnier open-heartedness, and I enjoyed watching Philip gradually – and sometimes rather begrudgingly – fall under the other man’s spell. Both are strongly written, three dimensional characters, but Ben is the star of the show and I loved him to bits. This is a man whose faith really is love and for whom doing actual good – visiting the sick, helping those in need and shepherding stray sheep – is every bit as important as sermonising from his pulpit. It is probably something of a stretch to believe that a man of the cloth at this point in time could accept his sexuality without a crisis of conscience, but I’m choosing to believe that there were open-minded, enlightened men like Ben in existence – and given his upbringing, perhaps it’s understandable that he would be more progressive than not.
As is obvious from the references to ‘favourite things’ in the book blurb, there’s a bit of a Sound of Music vibe going on here, what with the stern sea captain, the warm-hearted vicar and a bunch of unruly and rather neglected children who need to be loved. I smiled at that little homage, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface – possibly a little too much at times. My biggest reservation is to do with the speed at which the romance develops; Ben and Philip go from dislike to attraction to acting on that attraction before the half-way point of the book, and the pivotal point (Philip makes an offhand comment to Ben regarding his affections for ‘his’ lieutenant while inebriated) seems rather unsubtle, although there’s no question that the build-up – all those longing, heated glances, and accidental and not-so-accidental touches – is done very well indeed. The chemistry between the couple and their sheer likeability go a long way towards downplaying that particular problem, but I can’t deny that the author has tried to cram too much into her story by including several under-developed sub-plots and overly contrived solutions to them. Phililp’s children, for instance, are quickly rehabilitated, and the problem of Ben’s engagement to Alice is very easily and conveniently dealt with.
The ending is a little too pat as well, but in spite of all those things, I enjoyed the book a lot. The writing is warm, intelligent and engaging, and the two protagonists are so compelling and – ultimately – charming, that it’s impossible not to be captivated by them and their story. It Takes Two to Tumble has a number of flaws, but I found myself so drawn in by the writing and characterisation that it was easy for me to see past them and enjoy the book regardless. It may not quite reach the standards of The Soldier’s Scoundrel or The Ruin of a Rake, but it’s a lovely read and still a head and shoulders above so many of the other historical romances currently on offer.