The Husband List
Victoria Alexander’s latest, The Husband List, is an enjoyable tale in the tradition of Julia Quinn and other writers of humorous historicals set in the regency period. Fans of her most recent novel, The Wedding Bargain, will want to read this one – the heroine of The Wedding Bargain even makes a brief appearance.
Noted salon hostess Lady Gillian Marley has a dilemma: she must remarry before her thirtieth birthday (in two months!) or forfeit a very large inheritance which would grant her financial independence and help her support the female artists who have few opportunities in Regency England. Her best friends from childhood, Robin and Kit (yes, they are men), compose a list of completely unsuitable candidates as a joke. Much to their dismay, Gillian approaches one, Richard Shelton, the Earl of Sherbrooke, and suggests a marriage in name only.
Richard was once a notable rake, but upon his dissolute father’s death, he reformed himself to care for his four sisters and restore the family’s name to respectability. Still, he’s not such a perfect gentleman as to agree to a celibate marriage, so he decides to take some time to convince Gillian that this marriage in name only is not what she really wants. Fearing that his respectability may be a turn-off, Richard also woos Gillian as his alter ego, the French painter Etienne-Louis Toussaint. Richard paints under this name because he fears his true identity would not be taken seriously in the art world.
Happily for those tired of virgin widows of trolls, Gillian’s first marriage, to her childhood sweetheart Charles, was deeply loving. Even eight years after his death, Gillian is afraid to love again. For all his charm, Richard is still a Regency lord, and marrying for love has never crossed his mind – until now. Do Gillian and Richard really want money, lust, or love? And what of Gillian’s attraction to the mysterious Toussaint, who will not show his face and speaks with a remarkably fake-sounding accent, and Richard’s stubborn assertion that women cannot be great painters?
Gillian and Richard are imperfect but likable, and they are as passionate about art as they are about each other. I always find couples with shared interests outside the bedroom refreshing. The supporting cast is well-drawn; the best characters include Gillian’s chums, who keep “sacrificing” themselves by loyally proposing to Gillian, and Richard’s sisters – practical Emma, dreamy Marianne, adventurous Becky, and Jocelyn, who will just die if she doesn’t get her London season.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the ending was a little rushed and had some elements of deus ex machina. I would have preferred to see Gillian and Richard work together to solve their differences. But make no mistake, The Husband List is one of the best romances I’ve read this year. The cover quote from Julia Quinn describes it as “warm, wise, and witty.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.