Ravishing the Heiress
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.
I live in Seattle, Washington and work as a legal assistant. I remember learning to read (comic strips) at a young age and nowadays try to read about 5-6 books a week. I love to travel, especially to Europe, and enjoy exploring smaller towns off the tourist track though London is my favorite city in the world.
|Review Date:||June 22, 2012|
|Book Type:||European Historical Romance | Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||businesswoman | Fitzhugh trilogy | friends to lovers | Marriage of convenience | slow burn | Victorian|
I could not put this book down but thought Fitz was a douche.
We want you!!!
So, we are going to do a Dreamboat or Douchebag column on Fitz and… for the first time ever… we want to include our readers’ perspectives. So, if you love Fitz, send us a two or three sentence reason why. If you loathe Fitz, send us a two or three sentence reason why. If you think it’s complicated, send us a two or three sentence reason why. Send your submission to email@example.com. We want to run this in January and we’d love to hear from you!
And if you’re unfamiliar with our DoD columns, here’s one on Alex from Kiss an Angel.
ok. So here’s my (little) piece in french dans le texte. Not spoiler-free.
J’ai été déçue par les 1 ou 2 premiers chapitres. Ils n’étaient pas aussi jeunes que je le pensais, en conséquence de quoi ça met un coup au fameux pacte et puis surtout 8 ans plus tard, ils ne semblent pas si amis que ça, pour ne pas dire qu’ils apparaissent plus comme 2 étrangers vivants sous le même toit certes mais s’adressant à peine la parole. C’est pas ce qu’on m’avait vendu dans le blurb. Et au départ je l’ai trouvé lui assez égoïste, voire cruel avec ses “petits arrangements” à droite à gauche et surtout avec la femme qu’il aime. Et puis arrive le 1er flashback, puis le suivant et ça s’enchaîne et on comprend tout, jusqu’à ces 2 petites allusions de départ concernant le voyage de noces et le séjour en Italie, qui avaient bien attisé ma curiosité et ma frustration aussi de ne pas avoir le fin mot de l’histoire là maintenant tout de suite. Mais j’aurai du faire confiance à Sherry Thomas pour ne pas laisser son lectorat sur sa faim. Elle nous avait fait le même coup avec Not quite a husband. Et je dois dire qu’elle est très très forte. A partir de ce moment-là j’ai tout aimé et surtout notre petit couple. D’égoïste et cruel, je l’ai trouvé hyper touchant dans sa détresse et son auto-destruction. Et son seul défaut finalement c’est d’avoir été complètement “clueless” sur la portée de ses mots, de ses actes aussi, qui ne font que remuer un peu plus le couteau dans la plaie de son amour non partagé à elle. Prendre sa femme pour sa confidente, n’y a-t-il rien de plus cruel ? Cruel, oui mais sans le vouloir et comment aurait-il pu le savoir alors qu’elle n’a jamais rien laissé paraître ? Et du coup pour moi tout est pardonné. J’ai aimé le voir succomber à sa douleur, puis essayer de lutter face à chaque nouvelle étape de la vie d’Isabelle (le mariage, le 1er bébé, le 2ème…) comme autant de coups de poignard dans le coeur. J’ai aimé la douleur sourde aussi de Millie qui supporte tout même l’insupportable du dernier “arrangement”. J’ai aimé les apartés sur la vie entreprenariale – ça change des salles de bal et des réceptions dont les Regencies regorgent même si nous avons aussi droit ici à notre lot avec notamment une très jolie scène de danse. J’ai aimé encore que Fitz ne soit pas totalement indifférent à sa femme finalement pendant toutes ces années. Qu’il n’ait pas voulu rompre le pacte plus tôt, je le comprends parfaitement. Fidélité à son amour de jeunesse, fidélité à la promesse qu’il a faite à Millie, et puis il y a ce malentendu de départ qui lui laisse à penser qu’elle non plus n’a pas le coeur tout-à-fait libre. Quand je lis certaines critiques, j’hallucine (yes because many readers dislike or hate Fitz in France too). Après tout pour ce qui est des petits “arrangements”, c’est elle qui lui a soufflé l’idée. Ok en gentleman – en en héros qu’il est – il aurait sans doute pu refuser, mais bon. Et puis il faut voir comment il remet une de ses maîtresses à sa place quand elle ose manquer de respect à sa femme. Proprement jouissif. Alors bien sûr les flashbacks s’attardent peut-être un peu à un moment donné et retardent d’autant THE tournant de l’histoire. Mais rien n’est laissé au hasard, tous ces épisodes apportent leur petite pierre à l’édifice de leur histoire d’amitié puis d’amour. Et c’est juste beau. Pour ce qui est de la sensualité, on n’est pas dans quelque chose d’exacerbé mais ça ne me dérange pas et ça n’en est pas moins passionné, y a qu’à voir la scène de “ravishing of the heiress” – wahouh ! Quant au personnage d’Isabelle, je ne suis pas fan des histoires avec une autre mais Isabelle a le bon goût de ne pas être une mégère. Même si certaines de ses réactions sont discutables, elle n’a pas de méchanceté vis-à-vis de Millie et sait s’effacer quand il est temps. Elle n’est finalement qu’une victime des circonstances autant que lui et c’est normal qu’elle ait droit à son HEA plus tard même si j’avoue, je ne suis pas curieuse de le découvrir.
It’s interesting that Fitz is hated in France! I definitely did not hate him, and I agree with you that he has his own heartbreak with which to contend. He’s a bit of a tragic figure in his own way, like Millie. The difficulty I had with the story is that it is a triangle love story and one where the main couple are minimized. Fitz pines for Isabelle, Isabelle pines for Fitz, and Millie pines for Fitz. The payoff for Millie and Fitz, when it comes, is very late in the book and quite sparing in details and depth. It’s interesting too that you enjoyed the flashbacks as I generally don’t care for them much in romances. That is one reason why Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk didn’t work for me as much as I had hoped.
I love flashbacks, specifically those from ST. She has a knack for it. It adds such a dimension to the H/h romance.
I won’t say that Fitz is hated in France but I read some comments from french readers on a website specialized in romance and I found them really harsh on Fitz’s character. He was egotistical, unfaithful and an idiot even. I found it was unfair since I thought (and still think) that he has his reasons. So I wanted to defend him there, like I wanted to defend him here.
Definitely not a douchebag for me obviously, Neither a dreamboat (I won’t go that far). Speaking of, you make me very curious about Alex from Kiss an angel and I’m so not into Circus things. I think I could make an exception for this one. I love them douchebags, when they’re able to redeem themselves and when they grovel… a lot. ^^
I’m ambivalent about them but when they work, as they do here, they’re the bomb.
Merci de partager votre avis! Et je suis en accord avec vous – Fitz est égoïste, infidele et, oui, un idiot! Mais, comme vous, je crois qu’il avait ses raisons. Aussi, je trouve que c’est possible lui pardonner un peu, parce qu’ il n’a pas pris un engagement émotionelle avec Millie… (gah – I don’t usually talk or write about romance novels in French!)
I shall keep the rest of my argument for our column!
Thank you Caz for your reply in french. It’s really sweet of you. I don’t think Fitz egotistical and so on. It’s just a PoV I read many times from french readers. I don’t share that opinion. Maybe I wasn’t clear because I don’t usually talk or write about anything in English.^^
And thank you for the welcome. As I said I love that website. Actually I’ve wanted to try and participate for ages but I’ve never find the courage. I couldn’t pass on the occasion any longer even if maybe it’s just for that one time. We never know.
You’re welcome – I did find Fitz to be a bit selfish, for sure, but he was nineteen to start with and had his life turned upside down… it doesn’t excuse him, but Sherry Thomas certainly doesn’t pull back from exposing his flaws.
We clearly need to do a D/D column about Fitz, guys!
Wow …. really great views on this book. I loved it, it was the best of the three. So many scenes from the books stay with me. Another Sherry Thomas which I really enjoyed was His At Night – I have re read that book a million times too …… I am very sure she will come back to HR.
It is for me, the best of the three.
Is it possible to post something in french here ? I wrote a little review (in french) a while back and I guess it’s another take on Fritz’s character because unlike the majority here, I didn’t hate him neither did I dislike him. Actually I kind of found him moving and I totally rooted for him and for his HEA with Millie. I even found excuses for his behavior (maybe it’s because I’m french – just kidding ;-p).
I read in english but writing in english is a totally different matter. Too complicated to try and translate the review. So if it’s not possible, too bad. I will keep on coming here as a silent reader. A dedicated one because I just love THAT website and you’re a great source of information for my TBR pile. I’ve wanted to post and say it for a long time now. So at least I’ve done just that.
Post it as a comment!
I read French, Finkil. I’d love to read your post!
I’d like to read it, too, Finkil. I didn’t hate Fitz either :)
Well said. My feelings run along the same lines.
Also, most of the appeal of this book for me is with Millie. I think she’s such a different, sympathetic heroine. Her quiet suffering was so moving. I ached with sadness for her.
(This is Em BTW. I keep logging in & the system isn’t recognizing me)
Lots of perspectives here. I see Fritz’s asshattery as a product of his times. Rather like Jamie in Outlander–a hero I also love. As is, for that matter, Millie. She is, after all, the one who gives Fritz the freedom to be the man he is. For me, their romance is lovely because they find a relationship–I love their professional respect of one another–in spite of their past and the world in which they live.
I have to work “asshattery” into a conversation this week…
Wow. I despised this book with a total fury. I generally like Sherry Thomas and she is an auto buy. I like that her characters and plots are non-traditional. But this book… Man, this book! It may be my most despised romance ever. I liked Millie and felt sympathy and empathy for her- that is my problem with this book. The H and h are not even comparable in the decent human being stakes. Millie was a nice person. Fitz was not and, I felt, everyone- including the author- totally let that asshattery slide away. Seriously, I felt Fitz was just living the majority of his life (in the book) in this self-pitying little bubble of narcissism. I felt like he actively wallowed in his lost love. I was infuriated that I was supposed to buy that he has sufficient “honor” to pay his inherited debts but not enough to behave honorably toward the very young lady who allowed him to pay off those debts. When he is supposedly older and wiser and doesn’t blame a 16 year old girl he has never met for all his life’s problems- he is still a jerk to her. That six months business! Where is all his “honor” now? He lived financially, physically, and intellectually comfortably for years (thanks entirely to Millie’s labor and her parent’s largesse), yet he decides at this very late date he just cannot abide fully to the bargain they struck. This isn’t even the full accounting of everything I hated about Fitz. I’m afraid I seriously hated this book.
I liked reading your review and have to say that I pretty much agree. I’m a huge fan of Sherry Thomas and she is an auto buy for me as well, but this book depressed me and left me wishing that Millie could have walked away at the end and found a partner more worthy of her love. I like the concept of a romance author exploring how arranged marriages can destroy people’s lives, and I understand how Fritz feels victimized by a system that requires him to abandon the woman he loves to marry an heiress. I struggled not to put too much blame on him as there are extenuating circumstances. However, there is not enough emotional pay off in his relationship with Millie. Fritz is so painfully slow to recognize Millie’s worth and his feelings for her that by the time it finally happens, I no longer really believed in them as a couple. I have never gone back to reread this one. I probably should but on an emotional level, I don’t really want to.
I always find it really interesting to talk to people who have the complete opposite view of a romance novel (I mean this sincerely, not sarcastically!) Sometimes I even agree on the points, but have a different emotional reaction to them. I strongly dislike some really popular romances, so I know the feeling.
It’s our hope that AAR is always a place readers feel engaged and happy to talk about romance. This conversation has been stellar.
It is very interesting to see people who view books so very differently. I realize that I am, by no means, a “majority” thinker. I won’t even list my favorite romances for fear I could hear the gasps and laughter through my WiFi. But, it is what it is. Reading Blackjack’s comment about Fitz’s behavior being partially mitigated by the fact he was forced into an arranged marriage made me think a bit. I still don’t like him a whit, but, I can see Sherry Thomas playing with that idea- she really is nontraditional and I do applaud that. I’m not sure my blood pressure could take it ( I really hated that character, if you can’t tell), but if I re-read it, I’ll try and keep that in mind. On an emotional level, I’m usually a sucker for underdog romances and Millie was the ultimate underdog. I liked her and felt for her. Like a good girlfriend, my emotional response to Fritz is just undying disgust. I just can’t feel Millie won anything worthy when Fitz deigned to bestow his love.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure why I have such a strong feeling for this book. Ugh, now I may have to re-read it.
No gasps or laughs at AAR! We are firmly committed to we love what we love and that’s just fine.
I really like the way you put it about Thomas’s non-traditionality. That’s what made this book for me, personally. I wanted to hit Fitz frequently, and I do think it wasn’t really necessary for him to be quite as horrible to Millie as he was, but I loved that Thomas was willing to explore into the emotional issues with arrangement marriages so honestly. Most of the versions of this trope I’ve read, the hero’s feelings for the other woman (or the heroine’s for the other man) are trivialised to the point where he’s half in love with the heroine by the morning after the wedding night, and that doesn’t sit well with me, so I liked Thomas’s twist on the trope. She still takes the story to a traditional ending, but I like that she used the more difficult path to get there.
Thomas and Kristan Higgins are two authors whose work seems realer to me than many others in romance. I like books–now that I’m ancient and have been married forever–where the leads are flawed, occasionally selfish and stupid, and then, after some work, find their better selves in love. This book exemplifies that for me.
This book and Not Quite A Husband are my two favorite Sherry Thomas novels. Very few other writers could have achieved what she does here – showing two people creating a relationship and building the foundations for a lifelong partnership, without one of them knowing that he is falling in love until several years of marriage have passed.
Seeing all the comments here, there’s this tiny little hope inside me, wishing Sherry Thomas would see this and felt like writing HR again. I haven’t read her Charlotte Holmes book yet (still waiting for the series to finish and then go on a binge read fest) but I’ve only heard praise for the two books she’s published.
Sherry Thomas is something else.
She has an upcoming project (no release date) that is a Mulan YA retelling (uhh…which sounds AMAZING). No historical romance on the horizon, afaik :(
Oh, the Mulan book sounds so good. I have to say too though, and I’m surprised to be saying this as a huge fan of her historical romances, but I’ve found Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock books to be the best things she’s written. After reading the second one, I hope she keeps writing them endlessly.
Not my favorite of Thomas’s by far. i kept waiting for the big, emotional “pay off” for all the heroine went through, but it was too tepid for me.
This is my favorite book of Sherry Thomas’s (and one of my favorite romances, period), which is saying a lot, because I adore her. It’s a difficult book to get through in terms of having to observe Minnie putting herself last always and wanting Fitz to realize he’s in love with her so much sooner. But I find it so satisfying when they do end up together. This kind of plot is an absolute disaster in the wrong hands though.
MILLIE* good lord, not Minnie. I’ve read this book at least 10 times.
This is my favorite Sherry Thomas book. There’s so much emotion in it. I actually enjoyed the scenes with Helena and Hastings. I think god secondary characters add to any book.
That should be “good” not “god.” :)
THIS IS MY 2nd FAVORITE THOMAS BOOK (Not Quite a Husband is my favorite). I hated Fitz so profoundly and loved Millie…it’s really the only romantic novel that’s ever made me cry. I love this story so much. And the novella that follows it (A Dance in Moonlight), wherein Ms. Thomas redeems Isabelle Englewood (the woman whom Fitz hoped to marry) is similarly great. I mean, ST can do no wrong but this story…I loved it.
As Caz points out, what makes Fitz’s love for Millie viable is that it changes as he gets to know her over the years. There’s no insta-lust/love here but rather the sort of relationship that time hews. It is really wonderful.
Yes, I meant to say that I eventually forgave him…but I just hurt for Millie so much. And Fitz…well, I learned to love him.
The ‘honeymoon’ is gut-wrenching. I remember listening to the audio a couple of years back and being utterly wrecked at that point.
This is one of my all-time favourite HRs – although I admit that I’d have liked a little bit more “happy!Fitz&Millie” at the end. But then, Ms. Thomas writes their relationship over the years so well, that there is probably not much more to be said – and I appreciate the glimpses we get of them in the next book.
Speaking of the next book… I’m a big fan of Tempting the Bride as well, so I don’t mind the Hastings/Helena set up in this.
I like things about Tempting the Bride. But I hate amnesia stories so it’s not my fave.
They’re not my favourite – there’s too much danger of the amnesia being used like a Big Red Reset Button, and it’s tricky to do the trope well. It takes an author of ST’s calibre to make it work (as does Meredith Druan in A Lady’s Code), but I suspect they’re the exceptions to the rule.
That recent book by Meredith Duran is (I think) the best thing she’s written since Bound by Your Touch. SO GOOD.
I actually liked Tempting The Bride even though I thought Helena was a reckless dolt to begin with. I don’t mind amnesia plots if they’re done well. Duran has done a couple that worked really well as you mentioned. As you also say it depends on the author. Some authors have the ability to make me buy into almost any situation if done well.
I liked this book, but I don’t remember loving it. I found Fitz’s lackluster feelings for his wife for too much of the book a bit of a downer. He comes around to appreciate her but by the end it felt a bit too little, too late. I read romances to awed by the power of love people have for each other, and Fitz’s love for Millie was rather underwhelming. I haven’t reread it since my first read though, and I do think a reread is needed. Isabelle’s story that followed this novel is a good one.
I agree with this 100%. Plus it really irked me that everything was about his feelings and his wants. Of course he should blithely commit adultery when he wants and Millie should just keep saving him and supporting him! Now he actually wants Millie and I am supposed to be happy about it when all I can think is that Millie deserves so much better than him. And so much better than spending years married to a guy worshipping someone else but all too happy to accept Millie’s money and companies.
This is my favorite of this trilogy. I don’t hate Hastings/Helena with quite this fiery passion, I didn’t find their love story or the one before this one anywhere nearly as satisfying as this one which is a favorite of mine.
Ha ha – I didn’t hate them (really) when I read their book, but I really resented the hell out of them during the book. I re-read it recently, and I stand by my original review. This is still one of my favourite books by Sherry Thomas.