Ravishing the Heiress (#42 on our Top 100 Romances List)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on June 22, 2012
When I opened this book, I fully expected it to be unequivocally wonderful. I haven’t read the first book in the series, but I don’t need to – it’s Sherry Thomas, and I trust that she’s going to tell a damn good story. Well, she does, and I love Millie and Fitz. They are a glorious couple. But bloody Helena and Hastings almost ruined it, and I really don’t mean in a good way.
Ravishing the Heiress, you see, is actually a short book, and I’m cool with that. Give me quality over quantity, any day, and the second book in the Fitzhugh series again employs Ms. Thomas’ trademark chronological volleying to great emotional effect. On the one hand, we have Millicent Graves in 1888, daughter of a tinned sardine magnate, raised to become an aristocratic wife and sold at the age of sixteen to fix Fitz’s decrepit estate, Henley Park. She doesn’t expect much from a marriage of convenience – she hasn’t been raised as such – but the minute she sets eyes on nineteen-year-old Fitzhugh, she falls in love. But Fitz loves another, and is loved in return. So she suggests putting off the consummation for eight years, after which they can separate.
And on the other hand, flash forward eight years, and against all odds Millie and Fitz have become best friends. But then Fitz receives word that the love of his life, Mrs. Isabelle Englewood, has returned to London newly widowed. This is his chance for happiness, even if it means living in adultery for the rest of his life. So Fitz turns to his wife, and proposes that they finally consummate their marriage to get an heir, after which they can get on with their lives.
What follows is a story that is by turns humorous, heartbreaking, and hurtful, but oh so wonderful. (And yeah, kind of ravishing too.) Both Millie and Fitz are young – so young – when the story begins that it’s astonishing to see how they choose to react to their problems, then how they grow out of it. Both are quiet, mature, and deeply sensitive people who are caught in a bad situation but try to make the most of it. Ms. Thomas demonizes and sanctifies no one, least of all Isabelle and Fitz who could easily have been pseudo-villains, or the “love-to-hate” archetypes, or Millie, who could have been your customary suffering-in-silence doormat. But instead, we see two teenagers growing up. They collaborate to fix the estate, then Millie’s father’s tinned goods business. They are partners in crime and full confidantes. Their lives are now inextricably woven together, and there is nothing they do not speak of – except for that little matter of Millie loving Fitz.
It’s incredibly painful to see Millie suffering for love of Fitz, but Fitz comes round, and the consummation and resolution are oh so satisfying. There is no question that Fitz and Millie have worked extremely hard for their happiness, and that they’ve earned it. Moreover, it’s more than reassuring – it’s bloody splendid, actually, that Ms. Thomas shies away from stereotypes and clichés, and instead writes a unique, heartfelt story. Fitz and Millie are not, in the traditional sense, destined for one another. At the beginning, Isabelle and Fitz are desperately in love with each other, and I honestly believe they would have had a good marriage; her fire complemented his quiet, and vice versa. Both Fitz and Isabelle need to realize that Fitz has changed in eight years, perhaps not drastically, but enough that his mate, friend, and partner is Millie. And I was so happy for them. I hope Isabelle gets her own story.
So if you can’t tell already, I loved Fitz and Millie. If the book had been 260 pages of Fitz and Millie (and, okay, Isabelle too), I would have given it a straight A for a short but beautiful gem. But no. The page count clocks in at 284, because Fitz’s sister Helena and her erstwhile antagonist/hero Hastings take up another 20-odd pages. Yes, I know it’s a big setup for their story, and no, I was never confused. But here’s my beef: Their interactions added nothing to Fitz and Millie. Because their story isn’t complete yet, Helena and Hastings’ relationship (which is antagonistic and spirited) doesn’t fully complement Fitz and Millie’s. They’re not necessary, either – Ms. Thomas successfully refers to other previous events that have a bearing on Fitz and Millie’s story, without devoting pages of description to them. I resented the hell out of Helena and Hastings; every time they popped up, I wanted them to shut up and go away. I’ll be honest – I’m seriously considering gluing blank paper over their segments; they’re that distracting and unnecessary.
It’s not quite seriesitis, but it did knock the book as whole out of DIK range. But please – please please please – don’t let that stop you from buying the book. Millie and Fitz’s marriage is one of the truest, most romantic, and most uplifting depictions I’ve read in a long, long time. And what can I say – Sherry Thomas rocks my world.