In this novella, which both concludes Manda Collins’ Ugly Duckling series and introduces characters who will appear in her forthcoming novel Why Dukes Say I Do, readers are re-acquainted with Miss Amelia Snowe, the stuck-up, sharp-tongued young woman who had previously scorned and mercilessly mocked the three cousins who were the heroines of those books.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Amelia was a total bitch in those novels, someone who could not bear to see others succeed where she did not, and who felt that her position as a reigning beauty of the ton meant she could disdain and bad-mouth others with impunity.
But at the end of the third book (How to Entice an Earl) it appears that the icy Miss Snowe has had a massive change of heart when she appears in order to apologize for her dreadful behavior to the ladies she had previously derided so publicly.
In this novella, we discover that Amelia, having recently lost her mother, has been reduced to taking a position as a lady’s companion and that it, among other things, has served as a massive eye-opener when it comes to assessing her former life and manner of behavior.
Her charge is one Miss Harriet Smithson (I wonder if the author was listening to music by Berlioz while writing!) who is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Having made their money in trade, it is difficult for the family to enter the world of high society, but securing the services of a former ‘diamond’ of the ton is seen as rather a coup. Mrs. Smithson is anxious to give her daughter as much “polish” as possible in order for her to make a good match, and she hopes Amelia can help.
With this aim in mind, Harriet’s mother has arranged a house-party, on the eve of which her husband invites an unexpected visitor – Lord Quentin Fortescue – to remain for the duration. This, of course, upsets the hostess’ plans, meaning that she has to include Amelia in the dinners and entertainments in order to make up the numbers.
Amelia and Quentin had known each other some years previously, prior to Quentin’s departure for America on the heels of Amelia’s rejection of his proposal of marriage. Seeing each other again immediately rekindles their past feelings for each other and it is not long before they act on that attraction.
This is a novella rather than a full-length novel, so having the protagonists have a history together is a useful way of having them embark on a romance without the need for longer introductions and periods of getting-to-know-each-other. That said, I’ve read novellas that have done that very successfully in just as limited a page count, and in which the characters have been fully rounded-out and given as much depth as if they had indeed been in a full-length novel. Unfortunately, however, that is not the case here. In fact, I felt that the most successful parts of this novella were those that dealt with Amelia’s relationship with her late mother, her realization of just what an awful person she had been, and her determination to leave that all behind. Her honesty, with both herself and with Quentin, about that part of her life was refreshing, and even though there was a sense that she viewed her candor as a necessary part of a kind of penance, Amelia never became an object of pity. I thought it showed a lot of backbone that she could admit her errors and try to atone for them, no matter how difficult or demeaning the cost.
Quentin Fortescue was an attractive hero, although I never felt that he rose to being anything more than two-dimensional. I enjoyed his developing friendship with Amelia, but the romance felt forced. It was given a helping hand by the fact that the pair were drawn as partners for a kind of treasure-hunt and so could spend a little time together without tongues wagging too much, but when, at around the half-way point, Quentin tells Amelia that he desires her, his declaration comes pretty much out of the blue. There is a sad lack of romantic and sexual tension between them, even when things get a bit steamy in the greenhouse – although there is no deflowering among the potted palms! That she should let him get as far as he did given that discovery would have led to her dismissal without references and have seen her reduced to penury didn’t make sense either. And neither does the “caught-in-the-rain-oh-look-there’s-a-cottage-in-the-woods” sex scene that takes place a little later on.
In the course of one-hundred and twenty-five pages there are two sex scenes which I felt were completely unnecessary and didn’t add anything at all to the story. These characters have not seen each other for eight years and Amelia, despite her straightened circumstances, is a lady, who has spent most of her adult life in the midst of society, knowing how important it is to maintain the proprieties. I found it hard to believe that she could have completely disregarded everything she’d been brought up to so very quickly and have no qualms about jumping into bed with a man who had promised her nothing and whom she hadn’t seen for almost a decade.
I’ve read the previous novels in this series and had reservations about all of them, many of which are repeated here. I enjoy Ms. Collins’ writing style, but there is often too modern a feel in the way she has her heroines behave and speak, and in this particular story, I didn’t feel there was any real connection between the two protagonists.
If you’re looking for a quick, romantic read, I think there are other novellas out there that will fulfill your requirements more accurately. But if you want to know more about Amelia and her change of heart, this story will fill in the gaps more than adequately, and I thought that aspect of the story was by far the most satisfying one.
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Perfect material for a Hallmark Christmas feature
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