The Viscount Needs a Wife
Although set within her Company of Rogues universe, Jo Beverley’s most recent novels have introduced new characters who are not part of the Rogues’ “inner circle”, even though some of the Rogues have made cameo appearances or been mentioned. This latest story, The Viscount Needs a Wife features a character who appeared in the previous book in the series Too Dangerous for a Lady, when he appeared as a friend and colleague of the hero and was instrumental in helping to foil a plot to blow up the Palace of Westminster.
Beau Braydon has found himself unexpectedly elevated to a viscountcy he had no idea he was in line for and doesn’t want. Now Viscount Dauntry, he has inherited title, estates, wealth… and an extremely unpleasant dowager and her granddaughter (mother and daughter respectively of the previous incumbent) both of whom are still in residence at Beauchamp Abbey and who are seemingly immovable. A former army officer, Braydon’s intelligence, perfect memory and his ability to move freely about society have made him invaluable in the government’s search for the seditionists and would-be revolutionaries who have sprung up in England following the Napoleonic Wars. His work doesn’t leave Braydon a lot of time to spend trying to placate the two angry and resentful women he has been saddled with, and besides, he’s not someone who enjoys country living. He needs someone to run the Abbey on a day to day basis, and who will also be able to deal with the dowager and Isabella – and decides he needs a wife. Not having the time to embark upon a traditional courtship, Braydon instead mentions his plan to a friend, whose wife suggests her friend, Kitty Cateril, the young widow of an army officer.
Kitty’s husband was seriously wounded before she married him, but she loved him, even though their marriage had become increasingly difficult over the years. Now, however, she is suffocating under the weight of her mother-in-law’s grief; even though Marcus has been dead for two years, she refuses to put off her blacks, made Kitty’s life miserable when she went into half-mourning and basically expects Kitty to live as though she had died along with her husband. So when a letter from her best friend asks Kitty to consider the idea of re-marrying, she can’t help but be energized at the prospect of escaping the dreary life to which her mother-in-law wants to consign her.
Kitty can’t believe she’s considering the idea of marrying a man she has never met, but freedom beckons and she determines to make a good impression. She’s been told that the viscount wants a sensible, reliable wife, one who will manage his estates and his relatives, and live quietly in the country. Kitty is sure she’ll be able to manage his household, but thinks that perhaps her friend hasn’t told Braydon everything. Kitty isn’t exactly the shy, retiring type; she’s naturally vivacious and light-hearted, so when the viscount comes across her unexpectedly, romping across the fields with her dog, she thinks she’s ruined her chance of escape.
But while Kitty and Braydon don’t get off to the best of starts, there’s definitely a strong attraction there, and, as Braydon has pressing business in London and no time to change his mind, the wedding goes ahead as planned.
Two strangers getting married and having to adjust to a life together is a storyline that always appeals to me, and having enjoyed meeting Braydon in the previous book, I was looking forward to reading more about him in this one. As was the case in Too Dangerous for a Lady Ms Beverley’s research is impeccable and she has created an interesting story which makes excellent use of the historical background of the very unsettled political situation in the late Regency period. The gap between rich and poor was enormous, the Regent was expensive, ineffectual and despised, and those in power were still sensible of what had happened in France not so many years earlier and were worried about revolution. Braydon is called in by Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, to assist in the investigation of a recently uncovered plot to assassinate three of the royal princes.
The problem, though, is that while all this is well put-together and makes for an interesting read, the romance and central characters are rather underdeveloped. For one thing, the whole story takes place over a very short time period – Kitty and Braydon have been married for only three or four days by the end of the book, and we’re asked to believe in their respective “I love you”s when just a week earlier, they had no idea the other existed. Ms Beverley does a nice job in showing an affectionate companionship developing between them, and I rather liked Braydon’s willingness to confide in Kitty and that he doesn’t try to shut her out from his work, but it still happens too quickly for it to be believable. The plot-driven nature of the book also doesn’t allow for much character development. Braydon is rather bland overall – he has something akin to a photographic memory, is handsome, charming and clever – but his character lacks depth. Kitty is a sketched out a little more fully; lively, quick witted and determined, she’s more than up to the task of dealing with Braydon’s difficult relatives and the author adds nuance to her character through the little glimpses we get of her previous married life. But ultimately, neither of them is especially memorable which makes it difficult to get a sense of exactly why – apart from desire and expediency – they would fall for each other.
The Viscount Needs a Wife is as well-researched and well-written as one would expect from such an experienced author, but the romance is lacking. In my review of the previous book, I expressed similar reservations, but was able to recommend it because the historical background and story were so interesting. While that is true to an extent here, the storyline isn’t quite so compelling, which makes the deficiencies in the central relationship all the more obvious. If you’re looking for a well-told story in which the romance takes a back seat, then you might enjoy this, but I can’t really recommend it if you’re looking for an emotionally satisfying romance.