More or Less a Marchioness
More Or Less a Marchioness is the first book in Anna Bradley’s Somerset Sisters series as well as my introduction to Ms. Bradley’s writing. It’s a sexy tale set at an English house party, and I’m really glad I picked it up for review.
Iris Somerset has worked hard to keep her rebellious streak well-hidden from those around her. True, she’s not nearly as delighted by her recent betrothal to Phineas Knight, Marquess of Huntington as most other young ladies of her station would be, but Iris knows it’s her duty to make a good marriage. After all, her two younger sisters are depending on her to do just that. But when she overhears a covert conversation between her betrothed and his mistress at a garden party, Iris suddenly realizes she can’t sacrifice her own happiness, not even for the sake of her sisters. If Lord Huntington really finds her as dull and predictable as that conversation indicates, he’s obviously not the right husband for her. So, she jilts him, determined to take her life into her own hands for the very first time.
Phin can’t believe it when Iris Somerset proudly announces the end of their betrothal. What kind of well-bred young lady would dare to refuse an offer of marriage from a marquess? To Phin’s way of thinking, Iris would make the perfect marchioness, quiet, biddable, and not at all passionate. Now, it’s up to him to make her see things his way, a feat he’s sure he can accomplish if he can just spend a few days in her presence.
As one might imagine, Phin is delighted to learn that Iris plans to attend a house party in a few days’ time, a party to which Phin has also been invited. Proper etiquette might demand that Phin come clean to his hosts about the sudden end of his betrothal to Iris, but he decides not to say anything to anyone about it. That way, when he convinces Iris to once again agree to marry him, neither of them will have any explaining to do.
For her part, Iris views the upcoming house party as a way to – hopefully – land herself another fiancé. She’s told no one that she’s jilted Phin and she doesn’t plan to do so until she has another marriage offer under her belt. Luckily, she knows Lord Wrexley – the dashing cousin of one of her very best friends – has been carrying a torch for her, and she figures a few days spent out in the country will give him just the impetus he needs to step up and offer for her.
The set-up of this novel is perhaps a bit more complex than it needs to be. I found myself needing to reread a few key passages over again just to make sure I was able to keep everything straight. Luckily, all the complicated maneuvering begins to make perfect sense once the house party is underway and our hero and heroine enter into a delightful game of cat and mouse.
It soon becomes apparent to Iris that she isn’t at all skilled when it comes to working out how a gentleman feels about her, so she enlists the help of Lady Annabel Tallant, a widow with a deliciously scandalous reputation who is a fellow guest at the party. Annabel agrees to teach Iris everything she knows about the sensual games men and women play, but it soon becomes clear to the reader that Annabel knows more than she’s letting on about Phineas Knight and the dark passions that drive him.
I loved watching Annabel skillfully steer Iris back in Phin’s direction, even though Iris seems certain Lord Wrexley is now the man for her. I couldn’t actually understand Iris’s fascination with Wrexley. It’s obvious from the very beginning of the book that he’s at the very least a fortune hunter, certainly not someone worthy of Iris’ time and attention; but it takes her an inordinately long time to figure this out for herself. Phin and Wrexley also turn out to be long-time rivals, and their constant sniping at one another got on my nerves pretty quickly. I don’t mind conflict in my romances, but I want it to be the kind of conflict I can really sympathize with rather than something that exists for the sole purpose of giving the principles something to argue about.
Phin and Iris have fabulous chemistry, and some of my favorite scenes involve them flirting with one another. They both have some baggage to work through before they can finally give into their feelings, but Ms. Bradley does a great job keeping the sexual tension front and center. In fact, the sexual attraction between them is one of the driving forces of the novel, so if you don’t like your romances on the steamy side, you might want to give this one a pass.
I wasn’t quite as taken with the cast of supporting characters as I had hoped to be. Iris’s sisters could be interesting if the author fleshes them out more as the series goes on, but some of the other characters seemed two-dimensional and flat, almost as if they were there for the sole purpose of giving Ms. Bradley people to write about in future books.
More Or Less a Marchioness isn’t the best historical romance I’ve read recently, but it’s definitely not the worst either. It’s a story I ended up enjoying in spite of its flaws. I’m not sure I’ll read future books in this particular series, but I’m definitely interested in checking out some of Ms. Bradley’s backlist.