The Beautiful One
I’m curious about historical romances by authors new to me, so I picked up Emily Greenwood’s The Beautiful One, first in her The Scandalous Sisters series. The story begins with Anna Black, who works in a school for young ladies, accompanying one of the students on a journey. The student, Lizzie Tarreyton, has been expelled for slipping out at night to meet a young man, so Anna has been charged with delivering her to her guardian, Lord Grandville.
Their carriage stalls near his estate, and as Anna is dealing with that, a shabbily dressed but handsome man discovers where she’s headed and warns her not to go any further. Anna isn’t dissuaded, but when she arrives at his lordship’s house, she’s startled to discover that Will Halifax, Viscount Grandville, is the shabby man. Will is dressed like that partly because he doesn’t care about social graces, and partly because he’s helping build new cottages for his tenants and is tiling the roofs himself. He makes it clear that he refuses the responsibility of raising his ward and just wants to be left alone.
But Anna is determined not to abandon Lizzie, especially because she feels Lizzie’s behavior is due to loneliness and neglect. Meanwhile, Will realizes Anna is the first woman he’s even noticed since his wife’s death a year earlier. He asks Anna to be his mistress, but when she’s less than thrilled at the prospect, he offers to hire her as Lizzie’s governess. Anna agrees because she wants to earn enough money to retire to a quiet life in the countryside. Will soon falls for her, but Anna keeps a very low profile because a young man apprenticed to her father spied on her while she was bathing and undressing, sketched her, and bound all his drawings into a book called The Beautiful One. Now the book is in the hands of a lecherous marquess who’s searching for Anna so he can use her as a model for a nude painting.
There are plenty of potential conflicts, in other words, but they never really gel together into a single strong whole. Will was devoted to his wife, and it’s great to see a dead wife portrayed as a good person, but after talking with Anna and his stepmother, he reaches the acceptance stage of grieving and that’s done. Lizzie starts growing up after she falls for his equally handsome younger brother. And as for The Beautiful One, Anna is so terrified of the potential scandal that she keeps refusing to marry Will but not telling him the real reason why.
Meanwhile, questions about The Beautiful One keep appearing in newspapers and stoking her fears, but she does nothing until the end when the marquess catches up with her and reveals the truth. But if a plot is structured around the heroine’s devastating secret, that secret can’t be handled in one scene where every good person takes the heroine’s side, and every bad person is swiftly and easily dealt with. It made me wonder why Anna didn’t confide in Will a hundred pages ago, but then again, this book is not titled The Sensible One.
That said, there are some good moments. Will is always careful not to risk pregnancy when he and Anna are intimate, and there is a hilarious scene when a drunk, unhappy Lizzie wanders out into the garden and takes a hammer to a statue of Apollo, intending to knock a hole in his stomach. Unfortunately, her aim is off. Emasculating the god shocks her into sobriety, and to hide her misdeed, she wraps strands of greenery around the statue until it’s wearing an ivy nappy. I laughed out loud when I read this.
However, another problem with the book is all the Americanisms. Among others, a full stop is called a period, Anna wonders, “What had gotten into the girl?” and Will says, “Do what?” Finally, Will’s late wife was named Ginger. Maybe this is an in-joke because Anna Black is known for her beauty? Regardless, every time I saw “Ginger”, it jolted me out of the story, and I wasn’t that deep in it to begin with. So all in all, I can’t recommend The Beautiful One.