It’s a bad sign when I treat a book I’m reviewing like a stuffy old “classic” assigned for a literature class. To get through those books, I would set daily page goals: “Okay, I’ll read 20 pages a day and then it will take me x number of days to finish.” Notorious picked up as the novel progressed, but if I wasn’t obligated to finish it, I would have put it down far before things got remotely interesting.
When they were impossibly young (both about seventeen), James Devlin (“Dev”) and Susanna Burney married hastily, had a lovely wedding night, and then Susanna disappeared. She wrote to Dev that she would get their marriage annulled, that it was all a mistake.
Nine years later, James is in his second year of a betrothal to a spoiled girl he doesn’t like, after several years in the Navy and then as an adventurer and pirate. He is shocked to see Susanna on the arm of Fitz, the marquis whom he believed to be on the verge of proposing to his sister, and even more surprised to see she is going under the name Lady Caroline Carew, the wealthy widow of a reclusive marquis.
In truth, Susanna is a “matchbreaker,” hired by wealthy parents to distract their heirs from unsuitable matches, and this is what she is to do with Fitz and Dev’s sister. She doesn’t particularly like her work, but with two teenage wards and years of poverty behind her, the allure of financial security is too much to resist.
Susanna and Dev pretty much hate each other on sight, and spend pages and pages and pages of being angry at each other, saying disdainful things, and just generally being intentionally hateful while secretly lusting after each other. Not to mention the fact that Susanna pulls a Ross and doesn’t tell Dev that their marriage was never annulled. There is no excuse for this sort of behavior. I didn’t like or care about either character, even though it was clear the author was trying to make Susanna into a pitiable, sympathetic heroine due to her past of poverty and tragedy in order to justify her dubious employment. However, it wasn’t her role as a matchbreaker that made me dislike her; it was her treatment of Dev. Every opportunity he gave her to make amends and be honest, she threw away. Dev wasn’t much better. Hate sex is never something that made sense to me, but boy does it happen in this book. It doesn’t make me believe in their HEA or chemistry; actually, given their supposed passion for each other, I thought the chemistry between them was just lukewarm rather than sizzling.
There were a number of things about this book that were inconsistent or poorly explained, like Dev’s two-year betrothal, Susanna’s reasons for leaving Dev, and the practicalities of Susanna adopting different identities and names. In many instances, an explanation is given, but chapters later than it should have been. Combined, all the times I sat there wondering why or how led to an unbelievable story.
I do have to admit that Nicola Cornick is a decent writer, and is not a bad storyteller. With likable characters and a less contrived plot, I imagine I would enjoy her writing. Unfortunately, Notorious started out poorly, and any improvement throughout the novel wasn’t enough to win me over.