The Reluctant Viscount
The Reluctant Viscount is Lara Temple’s second book for Harlequin Historical, and while it is a little uneven in terms of the pacing and plotting, I enjoyed it sufficiently to want to read more of her work. The central relationship is very well written and the verbal exchanges between the hero and heroine are often funny and have a naturalistic feel to them that not many authors can achieve. But the mystery that is introduced in the latter part of the book is not as successful, and the shift in focus from romance to mystery left me feeling a little disappointed overall.
Some ten years before the story starts, eighteen year-old Alyssa Drake was heartbroken when her beloved childhood friend Adam Alastair was banished from their village of Mowbray. Her cousin Rowena, a manipulative young woman, made it seem as though Adam had compromised her so that she could secure the hand of another, wealthier suitor, and with everyone – including his family – believing the worst of him, Adam left England and hasn’t been back since.
Alyssa has spent the last ten years living with her neglectful father, a well-known poet who only remembers her existence when he wants something – and watching her siblings make happy marriages. When she was younger, she had been as much of a tearaway as her brothers and sisters, running wild with nobody to supervise them, but after Adam left, she realised such behaviour was unacceptable and started to bring her siblings into line, seeing to their educations and manners as well as turning herself into a proper young lady. A decade and more later, her transformation has been so successful that most of the village has forgotten the breeches-wearing, tree-climbing hoyden Alyssa used to be, and she is regarded as a model of propriety and is well-liked and respected in Mowbray.
She’s someone who has spent most of her life watching out for and taking responsibility for others, and it’s something she can’t quite stop doing. Her latest mission brings her to the door of the newly-minted Viscount Delacort with a request for help; his dandified, fortune-hunting cousin has set his sights on her father’s ward, Mary, who is supposed to be marrying her brother Charlie, and she wants the viscount to warn him off.
But this Adam Alistair is not the one Alyssa remembers. In place of the warm, friendly young man she knew is a cold cynic, one who has not forgotten his humiliation at Rowena’s hands and who clearly wants to be anywhere other than Mowbray.
At first, Alyssa wonders if Adam even remembers her, but that impression is quickly dispelled as Adam comments that Alyssa hasn’t lost her penchant for wanting to organise everyone, and she hits back by taking him to task about his principles – or lack thereof. This initial exchange sets the tone for many of their subsequent encounters, which contain a mixture of insight, humour and forthrightness that clearly shows that these two have each other pegged. As I said at the beginning of this review, the dialogue between the protagonists is superbly executed and is one of the book’s strengths; there’s a real sense of the strong emotional connection between them and the underlying romantic and sexual tension bubbles along nicely.
A couple of hints are dropped early on in the story that someone is not at all happy at Adam’s return and his inheritance of his lands and title, but in the second half, this plotline assumes greater importance and takes over from the romance as the driving force of the story. When Adam is falsely accused of murder – or attempted murder – Alyssa steps in and provides him with an alibi, telling everyone that they were together at the time of the attack, and had just become engaged. I rather like the fake-relationship trope in romances, and it’s done well here, with Adam coming to the realisation that he actually wants to marry Alyssa, and she still determined to stay single rather than subject herself to the rule of a man when she’s had enough of that from her egotistical father. I really enjoyed watching Adam gradually fall in love while Alyssa tells herself to be sensible and resist him, but the mystery is the weakest part of the book, the identity of the villain isn’t too hard to guess and the denouement is rather OTT. I wanted more of Adam and Alyssa and their delicious banter and wonderful sexual tension; instead I got a predictable mystery that detracted somewhat from their burgeoning romance.
But with that said, The Reluctant Viscount is still getting a strong recommendation because the things about the book that DO work – the dialogue, characterisation and romance – work very well indeed. Even with the reservations I’ve expressed, I would definitely suggest that anyone looking for a new voice in historical romance could do worse than give this one a try.