When the Marquess Met His Match
Narrated by Susan Ericksen
Susan Ericksen is a very talented narrator and a huge favourite with many, but I’ve not always been completely convinced by her performances. I admit, my experience has been limited to her narrations of historical romances set in Britain (such as Celeste Bradley’s Fallen, Cecilia Grant’s Blackshear Family novels and Anne Stuart’s House of Rohan series) and in those, she always adopts a British accent for her character voices and for her reading and she maintains the accent quite well most of the time.
Although my feelings about her are somewhat mixed, I do find her to be an excellent reader and know that I can rely on her to deliver, even though I have reservations about other aspects of her performance (more on that later). So I started listening to When the Marquess Met His Match secure in the knowledge that I was in a safe pair of hands as far as the narration was concerned, and knowing what sorts of reservations I was likely to have.
The book is set in the latter part of the nineteenth century, at a time when more and more cash-strapped British aristocrats were looking across the pond for wives with fortunes to sink into their dilapidated estates or to support their dissolute lifestyles. Lady Belinda Featherstone was one such heiress. She fell head-over-heels in love and married when she was eighteen, only to discover that her new husband was completely indifferent to her and that he’d married her fully intending to continue bedding his mistresses and living as he had before his marriage.
Not only did Featherstone run through Belinda’s money, but her father also lost his fortune in America, so when Featherstone died “on the job” (as we say over here) with a mistress, Belinda was left with almost nothing. Needing to support herself, she set herself up as a matchmaker, effecting introductions between American heiresses in search of titled husbands and impoverished British noblemen, and has achieved great success.
When Nicholas Stirling, Marquess of Trubridge makes an appearance in her drawing room asking her to take him on as a client and find him a rich wife, Belinda is adamant that she wants nothing to do with him. His rather disreputable reputation is well known and, Belinda is convinced that he is exactly the sort of reprobate to be avoided by respectable young women – in short, a man just like her late husband.
In the way of young men who are heirs to vast wealth, Nicholas has been enjoying a carefree existence in Paris until his control-freak of a father finds a way to cut off his income from the trust fund he inherited from his mother. The Duke of Lansdowne wants to bring his heir to heel and force him to marry a suitable young lady of his choosing but Nicholas has other ideas. He’d rather jump off a cliff than do what his father wants, and recognising that he has no alternative but to marry a rich wife or starve, he decides to marry a woman who fits none of Lansdowne’s criteria – other than that she has a substantial fortune.
The attraction between Belinda and Nicholas is there right from their first meeting, even as she is telling herself she loathes him. There’s a sizzling sexual tension between the couple and plenty of fabulous, witty dialogue in their many exchanges. I enjoyed the way their romance developed, even as they fought it tooth and nail, and really felt for Nicholas as he realised he’d found the woman for him but can’t marry her because he’s on the verge of destitution.
The fortune hunter is an oft used character in historical romance. Sometimes he’s the hero who needs to marry money in order to save his family or his estates, and sometimes he’s the villain. In those stories where the former is true, the hero hates the idea of having to be so mercenary and steps up to do his duty with a heavy heart. This book differs in that Nicholas is completely unabashed about needing to marry money and doesn’t try to pretend to be other than what he is – a man on the hunt for a rich wife.
Both characters change and grow throughout the course of the story, although of the two, I found Nicholas to be the more compelling. He’s lived all his life butting heads with a dictatorial father who has tried to control his every action. This has become such a normal occurrence that he has failed to recognise that in rebelling against his father, he is still allowing him to dictate the course of his life. In order to get the thing he most wants, Nicholas has to turn his life upside down and make something of himself by acting rather than reacting, and he does it gladly and with enthusiasm, having the best of motivations – to earn the respect of the woman he loves.
Belinda’s issues with men are of more recent origin. While Nicholas grew up with a cruel and controlling parent, Belinda’s experience with her late husband has led her to believe men are untrustworthy and destined to disappoint her. As to bedroom activities, they’re just not worth the bother as far as she’s concerned. Fortunately, she has a gorgeous man on hand to show her the error of her ways on that score, but for her to be able to move forward with Nicholas, she has to open herself up to the possibility of love and accept the vulnerability that goes with it.
Despite a few reservations, I thought Susan Ericksen was an excellent choice of narrator for this story, and I enjoyed her interpretations of Belinda and the secondary characters like the unconventional Duchess of Margrave and Belinda’s young protégée, Rosalie. The fact that the heroine is American worked very much in Ms. Ericksen’s favour, as it meant that she didn’t need to provide her with a cut-glass accent which does tend to slip from time to time.
The accent used for Belinda didn’t sound to me like an all-out American one, but rather a variation of the British one she usually adopts wherein she utilises American pronunciations. She also narrated the action using the same sort of British/American hybrid accent. I haven’t yet sounded out any of my American friends as to whether they found that annoying or inspired, but it certainly worked for me.
One of the issues I’ve had with the other Ericksen narrations is her differentiation between the hero and heroine – sometimes it’s unclear. She does not employ much variation in pitch when portraying her male and female leads and I’ve sometimes had to backtrack during conversations which don’t employ many textual indicators in order to work out who is speaking.
Fortunately, that was much less of an issue in this audiobook by virtue of the fact that Nicholas is British, and Ms. Ericksen was able to differentiate using accent and by giving him a slightly harder-edged tone. It worked well when heard against the softer one used for Belinda. I find as a rule, that she is more successful at delineating the secondary male characters, such as Belinda’s butler, as they are “character” parts and thus can be made to sound older, more pompous, or more ridiculous that the hero can be allowed to.
When The Marquess Met His Match is the first book in An American Heiress in London series and I found it to be a well written, strongly-characterised, and emotionally satisfying romance. Susan Ericksen’s performance exceeded my expectations and, in fact, I think it is my favourite of hers so far.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: B+ and Book Content: B
Unabridged. Length – 10 hours 57 minutes