Say Yes to the Marquess: Castles Ever After by Tessa Dare
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"Think about it, Rafe. I'm a trainer and promoter. It's what I do all the time. I find two people, evenly matched. Send out the word. Draw crowds to see them in the same place. ..."
- p. 33
The first thing I noticed when I read this book was how audacious Tessa Dare is in comparing love and marriage to boxing. It's a riddle that the author asks at the beginning of the novel and I knew I needed to keep reading if I wanted to find out how they were connected. Clio has been engaged to Piers Brandon for the past 8 years, and she's tired of waiting. When she inherited the castle, she saw it as a sign to stop waiting and move on with her life. The castle represented security for her -- fortification against the future. That, no matter what would happen with Piers and their engagement, she would always have her castle, because it is something that was given to her and would be hers alone. She just needs Rafe Brandon to sign some papers for her.
"He doesn't want me." Her voice broke. "Can't you understand that? Everyone knows. It took me too many years to see the truth. But I'm done waiting. He doesn't want me, and I no longer want him. I have to protect my heart."
- p. 18
Rafe has been given powers to oversee to Piers' business while his brother is away. He's been fine with signing for expenses and whatnot, but he never expected Clio Whitmore to show up at his doorstep and asking him to sign for something that would greatly affect all of their lives. Rafe has been his family's black sheep, but he is determined not to muck up his brother's affairs. He plans to convince Clio of his brother's devotion but, what he doesn't count on is having to reveal his own feelings for Clio.
Clio and Rafe are both misfits, neither one fitting in well in society -- and it's part of the charm of this book, how it recognises and honors individual quirks: Clio's a lady who possesses an amazing, amazing palate with tasting ale. Rafe is a lord, whose passion is boxing. I especially loved Portia and her mathematical mind. Tessa Dare plays a bit with the idea of what we see on the surface and what lurks beneath: one would not expect the Whitmore sisters to be anything more than society misses and one would not expect Rafe to be anything more but a bored aristocrat raising hell. Then there's Bruiser, who is a stand-out character, by the way, who has decided to "game" the system. He's been given an opportunity to reinvent himself in the castle, and he's decided to be an "Esquire" -- it was a bit funny how Bruiser was able to reduce society's very complicated rules into a very simple formula: when there is a problem, a monocle solves all.
Rafe looked at it. "A quizzing glass. Really."
"I'm telling you, these things scream upper crust. You should get one, Rafe. No, I mean it. Someone talks over your head? Quizzing glass. Someone asks a question you can't answer? Quizzing glass."
"You honestly think a stupid monocle is all you need to blend in with the aristocracy?"
Bruiser raised the quizzing glass and peered at Rafe through the lens. Solemnly.
- p. 32
It made me laugh, but it also made me think about how quickly we judge people based on their appearance, but there's always more to people, and there's always more to their story.
Case in point: Piers Brandon, the absentee fiance. Throughout the novel, we get the impression that Piers is a terrible person -- as cold and distant as Clio describes him to be. We sympathize with Clio and warm to the idea of Rafe, who is there and who shows Clio that she is valued. This was a difficult love story, and I felt a bit sad for Rafe, who was made to choose between his own heart and his brother's. He'd loved Clio ever since they were children, but he had to hide his feelings from everyone, because he knew Clio was promised to his brother. He sacrificed his own happiness for the sake of his brother and their family. I'm not sure there's a right or wrong in this -- and I honestly wouldn't have known what to do if I were in Rafe's position.
When Piers returns, we discover he isn't really a bad guy. In fact, he's quite heroic and amazing -- and he really did care for Clio. Which leads me to the one small point of dissatisfaction: when Piers explains his absence and the lack of communication, I didn't know how to feel about Clio, who had made me believe the worse in Piers. Piers isn't such a bad guy, and I really felt his story needed a better ending. (The next book in the Castles Ever After series is coming out in August, When a Scot Ties a Knot -- based on the title, I don't think it's about Piers.)
This revelation does answers the riddle of the similarity between love and boxing: in boxing, matches aren't just haphazardly arranged -- they are carefully considered so that both sides are evenly-matched and that they get a good fight out of the arrangement. Piers is perfect, but he wasn't perfect for Clio. Clio and Rafe are complement each other: their temperaments and dreams are on the same plane and their hearts beat to the same rhythm.
A final thought: it's inevitable to compare Clio to The Odyssey's Penelope (and Tessa Dare does make this comparison in the novel) -- I kept thinking about who is more admirable: the one who waited twenty years, or the one who didn't, because we've long thought of Penelope as the gold standard of faithfulness. The question now is: Is Clio less faithful because she didn't keep waiting for Piers? I'm guilty of holding Clio up to such impossible standards and realised that it's part of her story: she's not infallible and she's not perfect -- and she knows it. But she's really trying her best to live the best life she can live, given the resources that she has.
I have to admit that I was a bit scared to read Say Yes to the Marquess, because I really loved the first book in this series, Romancing the Duke, and I was worried this second book might not live up to my expectations. It did not. Because it created a whole new set of expectations for me. It showed a different side of Tessa Dare: the side that was willing to test out the mix of humour and emotion and characters that she has done in Say Yes to the Marquess.
This is Book 2 in Tessa Dare's Castles Ever After series. To find out more about Tessa Dare and her books, click below: