I really hate the title of The Conquest of Lady Cassandra. Not only does “conquest” have terrible connotations for a relationship, it’s also misleading in the context of this story. One of the best parts about this book is the development and balance of the relationship between the hero and heroine.
Lady Cassandra Vernham is not well received by Society. Several years back, she was compromised and refused to marry the man, though the details are a well-kept secret. Both she and the man were ruined by it, and later, that man was killed in a duel, reportedly over Cassandra. She’s been pretty much disowned by most of her family, save her elderly Aunt Sophie. Sophie herself has a scandalous background, but now has settled into “eccentric” territory, rarely leaving the house or receiving visitors.
Cassandra’s lifestyle is not nearly as wild as the newspapers say it is, but she still is forced to sell off some of Sophie’s jewels to pay some debts. Some of the best pieces, a pair of sapphire earrings, are auctioned to Viscount Ambury, but several months later he still hasn’t paid, and Cassandra is getting impatient and a bit desperate.
Ambury suspects that the earrings were stolen from his family’s coffers, as they strongly resemble a pair, now missing, featured in a family portrait. Sophie is the most likely culprit, but Cassandra is extremely protective of her– more so now because her brother, in an effort to gain control over Cassandra, has started talking about Sophie’s “declining mental faculties” and plans to lock her in an asylum. Cassandra will protect Sophie as well as she is able — but she needs the money from the earrings. Things are further complicated between them by the fact that the man killed in the duel was a close friend of Ambury’s.
I’m always disappointed when an author leaves us at the altar, so to speak. One of my favorite things about romance novels is when we as readers get to see beyond the engagement and wedding, into that mysterious give-and-take called marriage. We get to see some of that in this book, and I loved it. While there is affection early in their marriage, theirs does not begin as a “love match.” Cassandra and Ambury start out with a lot of questions, and I really enjoyed seeing them become comfortable with each other and find (and push) boundaries and get to know each other – and, of course, fall in love.
Less compelling was the earring mystery. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, necessarily. It had all the components of a good intrigue, but for some reason it just didn’t click with me and I found myself disinterested in the outcome.
Madeline Hunter’s writing is a couple good steps above the average historical romance writer, and is a pleasure to read. This is the second book in her new Fairbourne quartet (Cassandra and Ambury are close friends with the heroine and hero, respectively, of The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne). While I’ve never followed any of Ms. Hunter’s series’ fully, I almost always do appreciate her books as standalones, and this book is no exception.
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So happy to hear you enjoyed it too!