Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review: To Charm a Naughty Countess by Theresa Romain


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Many of the stories I read are told from the third-person omniscient point-of-view, but it was only when I read Theresa Romain's To Charm a Naughty Countess that I realised the value of a story told from this perspective. It has to do with the hero, Michael, Duke of Wyverne and the very quirky way his mind works. We are told that Michael suffers from social anxiety, and we are given a privileged view into his thought processes.

The idea of appearances. If we go by outward appearances, Michael is just a typical lord: arrogant, aloof, and completely misunderstood by everyone, including his own father. After his disastrous first season in London -- something that we don't think gentlemen of the Ton experience -- Michael heads home to Lancashire, to suffer criticism from his dying father, and then staying in Lancashire permanently to take on the job and responsibility of the Duke of Wyverne when his father died.

This is only part of Michael's story, and this is the other part: before he left London, he met Caroline Ward (now Caroline Graves, Countess of Stratton) and kissed her and then left her. To the Ton, Caroline is now damaged goods: once favoured by the heir to a dukedom, and then dumped as quickly. Caroline was left alone in London, salvaging her reputation and her chances for marriage.

Now the tables have turned, and it is Michael who needs to marry well -- and Caroline has the power to help him save his dukedom. I have to admire Caroline at this point, I would not have been as forgiving -- but, I guess Caroline embodies the proverb Kindness begets kindness and helps Michael. There's a giddy feeling in seeing Caroline's thoughts when she sees Michael again:

As swiftly as Wyverne shook of her touch, slanted a reluctant glance over her face, Caroline's old fascination had bloomed again. She wanted to caress away those fine lines, tease his troubles off his soul, feel his skin sliding under hers, hot and tight with desire. She wanted to shake up his sense of honour, unsettle him, enchant him.

She had always wanted that.

But she would not let him know. If he cared only for a fortune, any woman with plump pockets might do.
- Chapter 3

I love the tug between Caro's mind and heart: what she wants to do and what she must do. There's an incredible sense of self-preservation found in Caroline, and it is understandable, considering what she went through all those years ago when Michael abandoned her.

What makes Caro a most admirable heroine is her capacity for forgiveness. She could have exacted her revenge on Michael, could have ignored him and allowed him to suffer society alone -- but Caro does not let this happen. And we realise that we share this privileged view of Michael's mind with Caroline: she understands him and understands how his mind works. And this made me smile: because Michael has finally found someone who understands him in the way his father never did -- and now his challenge is to convince Caroline of this rare connection.

...Like a Carcel lamp, he was constructed in a unique and intricate way that few people could understand.

Caroline was trying, though, and she was determined to succeed. She could never understand a lamp, as Michael did, or calculate the volume of earth to be removed to make an effective canal. But she had pierced her own heart long ago, and she knew how people worked.

She understood the need cloaked by Michael's deep eyes: he craved help, though he would never ask for it. He was a man, and a duke, and he was unimaginably proud -- three reasons to keep that wall around himself.
- Chapter 8

This is a story about a courtship that pretends not to be a courtship -- of two people who try so hard to control the way their emotions move before realising and accepting the inevitability of love that has quietly lain dormant in the years of their separation -- but has now been rekindled and cannot be denied.

This was the first time she had referred openly to that night. Eleven years ago, a passion that had shaken him, unmade him. He had fled the force of it, the evidence of his own madness, and transformed himself instead into Wyverne.

...

Since coming to London, his imaginings crept into every unused corner of his thoughts, kept him awake at night. He was unsatisfied, hungry, and no food would sate him. No body, no woman, but her. The clean sculpture of her face, her lush form -- they were so lovely that he almost forgot to breathe.
- Chapter 11

This is a beautifully written and beautifully moving love story -- a purely pleasurable read, and, perhaps, Theresa Romain's best so far.

To Charm a Naughty Countess is book 2 in Theresa Romain's Matchmaker series. To find out more about Theresa Romain and her books, click below:
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