Something Wonderful (#84 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on March 27, 2008
Like most romance readers, I have read many books by Judith McNaught and have loved several of them. When I think of the author, Paradise, Perfect, and A Kingdom of Dreams instantly pop into my mind as beloved favorites, yet I rarely think about my very first McNaught, Something Wonderful. In fact, I haven’t touched it since I read it that first time and so I thought I would have another go to figure out why that is. Mission accomplished. While I certainly liked the book, I just wasn’t as blown away as I have been by several of her others.
Alexandra Lawrence is a carefree, optimistic young woman who has the unfortunate burden of taking care of her eccentric household, which includes a deaf butler, a blind footman, a frequently drunk bottom-spanking uncle, and an overdramatic and bitter mother. Despite all this, Alex loves her life, seeing all the good in it. After attending her best friend’s brother’s birthday party, which is set up as a tournament, Alex rides home in her family’s old suit of armor, holding a shield and lance. From the road, a gunshot sounds, spooking Alex’s horse into careening towards the conflict. Jordan Townsende, the Duke of Hawthorne, is being held at gunpoint when a knight comes crashing out of the trees and flies headlong into one of his attackers. After the threat is neutralized, his rescuer faints. Jordan takes the young boy to an inn to call for a doctor, but while he is ministering to his unconscious friend, it becomes apparent that he is no boy.
After Jordan takes Alex home, her mother jumps on the fact that this duke has spent time with her 17-year-old daughter in a private room of a public inn. The whole family drops in on the Townsendes and demands that Jordan marry Alex because everyone in town believes she’s ruined. Surprisingly, Jordan doesn’t put up much of a battle and the two get married. His plan is to take Alex to his house in Devon and leave her there while he continues living as he always has. The two are only married for four days when Jordan suddenly goes missing. The authorities follow his trail and come to the conclusion that he is dead. Alex is crushed. She has no notion of Jordan’s rakish lifestyle or his plans for her, so she places her memories of him on a pedestal, reigns herself in, and lives solely to make the noble duke proud of her.
This image falls apart when Alex makes her bow to society. She is perfectly respectable, but her dreamy accounts of Jordan fall on amused ears and she soon becomes a comical outcast. Once again, she is crushed, feeling like she is letting down her late husband, until his cousin, Tony, finally explains what Jordan was really like. After suffering a bit of disillusionment, Alex changes back into herself. The intelligent, fun-loving, unconventional young woman suddenly becomes the toast of the ton. All the men want her and all the women want to be her. And miraculously, that’s when Jordan shows up again.
McNaught writes believable emotion, even if it is also extreme. Before Tony’s revelation, Alex was exceedingly naïve, but she was also young and idealistic. As for Jordan, after the truth comes out, his anger and jealousy felt real, yet at the same time fun to read. Several Big Misunderstandings take place, but this is one book where I found them very understandable, particularly the final one that leads to the climax. There are many sweet, funny, and just plain wonderful scenes spread throughout the novel that showcase McNaught’s ability to create charming moments.
However, there were aspects to the story that made it less than perfect. Or, should I say less than Perfect? Several issues were brought up and never really delved into again. Alex’s mother, who plays a key role in their marriage, disappears entirely. Jordan has had many lovers and intended to keep a mistress, but they never discuss fidelity. And the idea of Jordan going from thinking Alex is a boy, then a twelve-year-old girl, then a very physically immature young lady to suddenly being consumed with lust was hard to swallow. Luckily, the notion that he is completely captivated by her personality is not. It was also difficult to believe that what happened to Jordan during his absence would not be discussed more. He lived through a trying ordeal and I would expect there to be significant emotional ramifications, but those were never brought up. Finally, the ending was very rushed and certain aspects of it were unexplained.
Despite these drawbacks, Something Wonderful is a charming book with a feisty heroine (I loved the fact that she could fence with the best of them) and an enigmatic hero. I would have loved to include this book among my favorites by this author, but alas, that is not the case. However, I’m sure it’s among the favorites of other McNaught fans, which just goes to show what an amazing reach this author has.
|Review Date:||September 14, 2017|
|Book Type:||European Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||Top 100 Romance|
I loved the book when it came out and it’s still one of my favorites! She was young but as she grew she got spunk. Jordan was damanged by a corrupt childhood but so were many of the men in her books. I personally was glad to read it again.
I too really enjoyed this book years ago but do not think it has fared well over the years. The heroines in McNaught’s books tend to be too submissive and accepting of the hero’s at times flat out abusive behavior. McNaught handles the emotional depths of romance really well and her books are passionate and absorbing, but the stories honestly are sexist and hard to read today.
It’s funny how our perceptions change as we get older! I agree completely. I really feel that in her novels, the onus is placed on the heroine to accept the hero’s abusive treatment. Whitney my Love is one of the worst books in that regard, I hated how Whitney was forced to justify her rape by Clayton. I also dislike the fact that all her heroes believe that women are essentially frivolous, weak and faithless, and her heroines are somehow depicted as being miraculous exceptions of their flawed gender. It suggests some internalised misogyny on Judith McNaught’s part.
Something Wonderful was my first introduction to the historical romance genre and it used to be one of my favourites! I have such fond memories of reading this novel, and discussing it with my sister. I adored the heroine – I found her both endearing and endlessly entertaining. One of my favourite moments is the wedding night scene, which is somehow both hilarious and touching. Alex’s description of the rather risqué nightgown that she was meant to wear had me in stitches! However, like most historical romances written in 1980s, it has not fared quite so well with time. Re-reading this novel as an adult rather than a teenager, I now find Jordan’s cynicism and misogyny problematic and unwarranted, as I don’t believe it was justified by his back story. I also find his wilful and continual misunderstanding of Alex’s motives rather tiresome. Saying that, I still adore Alex, and despite the problems with the hero, I was still drawn into their charming and compelling love story.