The Gentleman's Quest
Having grown up on a diet of Victoria Holt novels, to this day I appreciate a fine Gothic mood in my romance reading. Give me empty moors, abandoned ruins, and secret passages any day. So I was inclined to enjoy Deborah Simmons’s The Gentleman’s Quest, an enjoyment further enhanced by a very likeable hero.
Kit Marchant is the easy-going son of a gentleman scholar and has recently inherited a modest country manor house from an aunt. During recent events, due to his relaxed attitude, he risked the life of his beloved sister (The Dark Viscount), and this is the reason for a bout of depression and self-blame at the beginning of the novel.
Unexpectedly, Kit receives a visit from a young lady, Miss Hero Ingram. She comes as an agent for the influential book collector Augustus Raven and offers a fortune for a unique tome that Kit inherited from his aunt. The book was destroyed recently, but there are hints that another copy may exist. Hero is determined to find the book, and Kit decides that even if he didn’t protect his sister properly, here is one female he will take care of. (In the book, this setup appears less daft than it does here in summary). Kit is a very loveable character. He is actually very capable but never needed to do much. The recent events have kind of awakened him, and now he is prepared to act when necessary, but still feels no need to dominate in best alpha male fashion. As a result, he goes along with what Hero proposes for a long time, but trust me when it’s time he is perfectly ready to prevail.
Hero is less easy to know and less easy to like. At the beginning of the novel, she appears cold, manipulative, and excessively distrustful. Several times, I just wanted to shake some ordinary common sense and faith into mankind into her. However, slowly it is revealed to what extent Hero has been emotionally abused, and suddenly I found myself rooting for her.
This is one of the novels where the hero falls for the heroine at lightning-speed, but she takes far longer to recognise her feelings – a set-up which I like, especially with a hero like Kit. Due to Hero’s issues, although there is quite of bit of desire simmering between the characters, the novel’s main focus is on the emotional side of the relationship.
How was the Gothic element handled? There are the requiste castles and moors, but there is also some comic relief and road romance moments. I liked the mixture, but readers who prefer a “pure” Gothic might be disappointed.
In spite of disliking the heroine at first, I enjoyed The Gentleman’s Quest. There is an old-fashioned feel to it that may appeal to readers who, like me, cut their teeth on the romance of the 1980s.