Never Kiss a Notorious Marquess
While this final book in Renee Ann Miller’s Infamous Lords series starts out with a strong concept, poor plot work and a childish heroine quickly ruined it. The relationship between the hero and his siblings provide the story’s sole spot of charm in Never Kiss a Notorious Marquess.
Posing as a widow, budding journalist Caroline Lawrence is on her way to the Essex countryside, planning to write an article for the London Reformer about the speech being given by suffragette Beatrice Walker. Caroline’s traditionalist father utterly despises the Reformer, but she doesn’t give a toss, or believe in her father’s traditional ways, and has been writing secretly working for it for ages under the name C.M. Smith.
The stump speech, naturally, soon descends into chaos. One of the men trying to shout down Walker tries to pelt her with an egg – only to hit one of his fellow protestors instead, starting off a brawl between both factions. The police arrive and arrest the women for inciting a riot, and Caroline manages to trip over the feet of a man still lying prone behind her, and knocks herself out cold, her last memory being of a strange man reaching out for her in an attempt at helping her to her feet.
It’s not easy being James Trent, the Marquess of Huntington. Ostensibly hanging around to supervise the building of a hydraulic water system on his country estate, he’s really trying to keep his head down and avoid the scandal that swirls around him. A widower of two years, his three siblings have been in his care for eight – the carousing Anthony, home from Cambridge; mischievous young Georgie, and boy-crazy teenager Nina. James has been blamed for knocking Caroline down during the protest, which is the last thing he needs. James, you see, has been the subject of gossip for some time – the death of his wife, Henrietta, in a tumble down the staircase of their London home, has caused hot debate as to whether he pushed her – and seen him labeled the Murdering Marquess to boot.
Caroline, stuck with the Trents until her concussion is gone, bristles at James’ babying her but also allows him to carry her around like a lost puppy. She lies about her name and when he reminds her of her dizzy begging for her veil – tells him she’s going to become a nun. James, naturally, gets hard whenever Caroline tosses her golden brown curls, nun or no. Georgie, Nina and Anthony collectively come to like Caroline immensely, and so does James. But after he gives her a few dry-humpy orgasms she runs home to London, afraid that too much longer of a stay will cause a scandal. Nina, enchanted by Caroline’s stories of society balls, runs off to follow her – which sends James in pursuit to face a sneering social circle. He finds Caroline at the opera and they re-ignite their romance – until Caroline discovers that James is the Murdering Marques and pens a furious article denouncing wife beaters and invoking his name. She eventually hears James pronounce his innocence, and when his grandmother starts to shove them together she’s amenable – but what will James do when he learns she’s his denouncer?
Never Kiss a Notorious Marquess charmed me at first. I loved James’ relationships with his siblings, and then, Caroline’s with them. Anthony is a truly charming secondary character, and there are moments of slapstick comedy that are silly but funny and usually work. All of this could have made a fun romantic comedic romp (which is why the book doesn’t dip into F territory). Sadly, a lot of the plot points, the inconsistent behavior of the leads and the poor plotting cause it to collapse like an over-beaten soufflé.
James is supposed to represent freedom for Caroline, but he’s as controlling and prudish as her father is, and is equipped with a temper that’s just as ugly, and he bullies underlings to get his way. The author assures me he respects Caroline’s journalism career, but they don’t really talk about it. The whole crux of the conflict is unnecessary anyway – a woman in a radical scandal rag denouncing him is not and could not be worse than being accused of shoving his wife to her death by everyone in the ton and being tried – and acquitted – of murder in the House of Lords. But the author can never settle on how respectable or controversial the Reformer is supposed to be.
And come on, Caroline, what kind of strong, smart woman – a woman who writes opinion pieces that require sharp wits and strong opinions – goes the ‘George Glass’ route when pressed for a fake name? More importantly – how does she not recall James’ scandal when she learns his name? The excuse given was that she was out of London and distracted by her mother’s illness and eventual death when it happened, but doesn’t every good journalist have an ear to the ground and know what’s going on? If the scandal is big enough to ruin his life and the lives of his siblings, how could Caroline not have eventually heard of it? But nothing about her screams ‘journalist’ in any way; she has no natural curiosity about the world and no real opinions besides broad ones about female independence and voting rights. She does no real investigating to clear her lover’s name; the facts about the main mystery are handed to her, and the final plot twist at the end falls flat.
The romance is typical stuff from Miller. He’s snide and paternalistic before making the switch into lust/love, she gets ‘hot and fidgety’ around him, which causes her to relegate her brain power to him and allow her to boss her around like a second father.
James’ logic when it comes to his behavior around Caroline is equally poor. He really shouldn’t be seen alone with a woman after becoming a tabloid curiosity, yet he literally picks Caroline up and carries her off to his castle like Rhett Butler on Viagra.
There’s so much extraneous plot stuff, like an ex for James to reject and a prospective fiancé for Caroline who shows up to be a pig and then be rejected. Henrietta (the dead wife) mainly exists so that Caroline can look like a better person than she is, and the author just shrugs away the eventual realization that she (Henrietta) had a mental illness. Large plot conflicts are solved through character injuries, leaps of assumption or illnesses instead of conversations. The narrative subjects us to violent info-dumps on a regular basis, giving us backstory for our main characters in big, chunky paragraphs and telling us how they feel instead of showing us.
I don’t need to say anything else. Never Kiss a Notorious Marquess is just plain bad, filled with informed attributions for every character. Also author, that epilogue is… not as charming as you think it is. Whoof.