The Mad Marquis
It’s not easy doing justice to a book requiring two weeks to read, even if there eventually comes a time during reading when the book finally takes off. This was my experience with The Mad Marquis.
Widower Henry Pelham needs a wife because he thinks his young daughter Isbeau needs a mother in her life. With that in mind he strikes a bargain with Julia Westfall; if they marry and she agrees to help care for Isbeau, she can remain in charge of the horses she loves. Though Julia knows nothing about raising children, having spent her whole life in the stables, she agrees to this marriage of convenience. Why? Because her ailing father gives her no choice; she can marry Pelham or lose her beloved horses to him.
Many marriage of convenience romances are not actually convenient for both parties – it is often convenient for the father of the heroine as opposed to the heroine herself – but in this instance, the bargain works for both Julia and Henry. Julia is willing to help with Isbeau, even though she doesn’t want children, because it allows her full control of her horses. Henry needs Julia not only to care for his daughter, but to care for his entire family. Insanity seems to run in the family and Henry feels certain that it won’t be long before he joins the ranks of the mentally infirm. After all, his daughter has imaginary friends, his aunt drifts through the house talking to herself, and his uncle locks himself in his room for days to deal with his depression.
All goes well until Julia moves in with Henry. His family readily accepts her into their clan, and sparks began to fly between the two of them. After a couple of really hot kisses (among other things) Julia wants to change their bargain and become truly intimate with her husband. Henry again explains to Julia why this can never be – the risk of having more crazy Pelhams is just too high. Although she tries to understand her husband’s point, she realizes after a few weeks in their home that something doesn’t quite add up. So Julia sets off to prove to her husband that his family is not insane.
While this set-up sounds interesting, its execution was not. The first quarter of the book is simply horse-crazy, and unless the reader is equally horse-crazy, it’s slow going. Eventually, though, once Julia sets out on her quest to prove her husband wrong – and falls in love in the process – the book begins to engage. It becomes a witty story of a couple turning to one another and working through their problems. There are some great love scenes and even a small mystery I didn’t see coming.
Grading The Mad Marquis isn’t easy because I did enjoy the majority of the book. But given its thoroughly difficult to read beginning, I imagine many readers will simply give up before they “get to the good part.” Had I not been assigned this book for review purposes, that’s what I’d have done.