No Conventional Miss
I think I’ve just found my fun read for Halloween. No Conventional Miss is a pleasant debut with just a touch of the supernatural to it. It’s rough around the edges in a few spots, but still a very worthy read.
As the book opens, Amaryllis(“Rilla”) and Imogene Gibson have arrived in London for their debuts. An advantageous marriage would only help their family finances, and Imogene longs for an aristocrat to sweep her off her feet. Rilla is more practically inclined than her sister and with an academic turn of mind similar to her father’s, she normally finds herself much more interested in her studies than in the marriage mart. In addition, Rilla has a secret, known only to close family, that could jeopardize her chances at a happy match.
Rilla sees things. As a child, Rilla once saw the location of a missing village child as though she herself was actually there at the scene. Rilla’s family has treated this “second sight” as a handicap to conceal rather than as a gift. The fact that Rilla’s aunt, who had a similar gift, ended her days committed to an asylum probably helps contribute to this fear. As a result, Rilla has somewhat believably reconciled herself to the notion that she can never marry. She sees her participation in the London Season more as an aid for her sister rather than a husband hunt of her own.
So where does Paul Lindsey, Viscount of Wyburn, fit into all of this? Well, the sponsor who has taken Rilla and Imogene under her wing for their debuts is none other than Paul’s beloved stepmother. Since Lady Wyburn has a soft heart and a history of being taken advantage of, Paul has decided to keep an eye on the situation to make sure that the young women and their genteel but somewhat impoverished father do nothing to harm his stepmother. When he meets Rilla, Paul is somewhat taken aback by her intellect and forthright honesty. Though, after having some time to think about it, he finds he rather likes time spent with Rilla. Of course, Paul has his own demons from the past to complicate things.
Paul and Rilla develop something rather sweet that feels like friendship with a spark of something more about the edges of it. However, things do not fall into complacency for long. The actions of a villain using Rilla’s fear that someone will discover her psychic abilities causes her to rush headlong into a situation where she and Paul end up compromised. Paul, ever the gentleman, does the proper thing and proposes to Rilla, who feels constrained to accept. And so they marry, each bringing their own dark secrets to the marriage.
The marriage happens fairly early in the book, and the resulting story works far more than it doesn’t. The secrets between Paul and Rilla, and their miscommunications with one another felt painfully real. This isn’t a story driven by one silly “Big Mis.” Instead, we get something that makes a lot more sense. Not only do Paul and Rilla have things they’ve kept from each other, but they also have different ways of expressing themselves. As the story progresses, not only do we get to see them falling deeper in love with one another, but we see them learning how to actually communicate with one another. This makes for a more satisfying then usual relationship arc.
The characters work overall as well. Some readers do not care for psychic heroines, but I liked Rilla. She’s practical and deeply curious about the world, and the psychic ability side of her nature doesn’t feel out of place or ridiculous. Rather than playing up the mystic angle of it or proclaiming oneness with the universe, Rilla just accepts that she sees things others cannot and she also accepts that she must primarily keep this to herself if she doesn’t want to be thought mad. Paul is also a good hero. He could have stood out from the crowd a bit more, but what we get of him is likable. He’s successful, but not insanely so, and he treats people around him with respect and kindness. There is a touch of the tortured hero about him, but as with Rilla, the author keeps things moderate and doesn’t often go to melodramatic extremes.
However, even if the characters tend to keep themselves in moderation, the plot doesn’t manage it. The book starts off well, with a gradual building both of romance and intrigue. However, toward the end of the book, the various threads of psychic vision, blackmail, and romance all get wrapped up in in a rather rushed manner. In addition, when dealing with the painful secret from Paul’s past, Paul and Rilla make mental jumps so quickly, it will likely make readers’ heads spin.
However, even with some rushed plotting and some writing that in places could have used more polish, No Conventional Miss is still a pleasant read. It doesn’t demand much from the reader, and provides a sweet, likeable story.