To Love and to Loathe
To Love and To Loathe is the follow-up to Martha Waters’ 2020 début historical romance, To Have and To Hoax. Our reviewer was less than impressed with it, citing problems with the premise and immaturity of the leads, and overall, reviews were mixed. With so many other books to review on my plate, I didn’t get around to reading it, so I can’t offer an opinion. But I wanted to give the author a try, so I picked up this second book in The Regency Vows series, because I am a sucker for that whole Beatrice and Benedick sparring-couple-who-are-desperately-in-love-but-would-deny-it-to-the-death thing. And I’m glad I did, because To Love and To Loathe is funny, clever and sexy, featuring complex, well-rounded characters and incorporating pertinent observations about the nature of privilege and the unfairness of the patriarchal norms and laws that deprived women of autonomy.
At the age of eighteen, the Honourable Diana Bourne is well aware that most men are fools, but a man doesn’t need to be clever to be possessed of a hefty fortune, which is exactly what she’s looking for. Since the death of their parents, she and her brother have lived with relatives who have seen her as nothing but a burden and who resent the expense her presence incurs. So Diana is determined to snare a wealthy husband so she will never have to worry about something as vulgar as money ever again.
The one tiny glitch in her plan is her brother’s best friend, Jeremy Overington, Marquess of Willingham, who while just as much of a fool as every other man, is nonetheless a massively enticing fool who has only to walk into a room to turn the head of every woman in it – and set Diana’s heart beating just a bit faster than she would like. But no matter how handsome and charming Jeremy is (or how strongly she’s attracted to him), he’s irresponsible, overly fond of drink and women, and – most importantly – almost broke, so he won’t suit Diana’s purposes at all.
A few years later, Diana is a wealthy widow and Jeremy is still cutting a swathe through the beds of the bored wives and widows of the ton. Their inability to agree on anything is widely known throughout society, as is the fact they’re engaged in a game of one-upmanship involving a constant barrage of well-aimed barbs and cleverly chosen put-downs. On one particular evening when Willingham again scoffs at the idea of matrimony, Diana impulsively wagers him that he’ll be married within the year – or she’ll pay him the sum of one hundred pounds. Of course, Willingham accepts – and only afterwards does Diana realise it was perhaps not the wisest thing she’s ever done, because honestly, she can’t see him marrying in the next twelve months, either.
Shortly after the wager is made – and just before Diana is to travel to Jeremy’s country estate for his annual house party – he comes to her seeking her help on a very delicate matter. His most recent mistress implied he couldn’t satisfy her in bed – and Jeremy can’t get her accusations out of his mind. Looking for reassurance, he turns to the only woman he knows he can rely on to tell him the absolute truth – and suggests to Diana that they embark on a brief affair during the house party. Diana isn’t inclined to agree to this – until he points out that a discreet affair with him will send the right signals to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.
“I’m not certain that the signal I’m looking to send is that I’ve joined the legion of women who’ve lifted their skirts for the Marquess of Willingham. I’m surprised they haven’t formed a society. With matching hats.”
She’s still not convinced – until Jeremy points out:
“If nothing else, it would finally dispel whatever this is between us,” he added, waving his hand at the space between them… “And don’t tell me you don’t know what I mean… Because I know you do.”
Of course as any romance reader knows, the old let’s-do-it-once-to-get-it-out-of-our-systems chestnut never works the way the participants intend it to. Diana and Jeremy are obviously head-over-heels for each other from the get-go and have been that way for years, but there are obstacles preventing both of them from fully acknowledging the truth of their feelings for one another – obstacles that feel authentic to who these two people are; flawed but immensely likeable characters who learn about themselves as they gradually reveal more of their true selves to each other.
I really liked that Diana and Jeremy were so clear-sighted about each other, even as they had things to learn about one another. Jeremy viewed the younger Diana’s eagerness to marry as somewhat mercenary, but didn’t know the reasons behind it; Diana suspects Jeremy is hiding his intelligence behind the wastrel he presents to society, but hasn’t fully understood the depth of his grief and anger over the death of the older brother who left him with a title and responsibilities he’d not been brought up to and didn’t want. They’re both perspicacious and fully up to each other’s weight when it comes to their ‘merry war’, and their chemistry as they snark and flirt their way towards their HEA is terrific.
I liked them individually and together. Diana is clever and funny and her status as a widow means she’s allowed more freedom to do as she wants than an unmarried woman would be, so her reluctance to consider giving up her independence in another marriage is understandable. And I loved Jeremy, a decent, considerate, generous man who has spent years making certain no-one would ever expect anything of him or take him too seriously because of his deep sense of unworthiness. Their inner conflicts are very well articulated and I loved watching them come to a greater understanding of one another.
I really enjoyed the book, but there are a few things that keep it just out of DIK territory. Part of Diana’s plan to win the wager involves her trying to find someone else to get Jeremy married off to – and she decides to throw him together with Lady Helen, a young woman known to be desperate to find a husband and who is widely disliked. Hints are dropped that Lady Helen is not what she seems, but Diana doesn’t know this and her determination to marry the man she loves (even if she isn’t ready to admit to it) to a young woman who is so patently wrong for him and would make him utterly miserable just didn’t sit right with me. I get that it was a mark of Diana’s desperation not to admit to how she felt about Jeremy, but it felt childish and petty.
The Big Mis that occurs near the end is a misfire, and I wasn’t wild about the amount of time given to setting up a future book in the series, which interrupted the flow of the main narrative. It’s well done and skilfully integrated into conversation and multi-character scenes, but I could still have done with a bit less of it.
All in all however, To Love and To Loathe is great fun. The writing is crisp and clever, the characters are engaging and the dialogue sparkles. For those of you who – like me – have been struggling to find really good historical romance lately, I’m happy to say that it’s well worth a look.