By Julie Anne Long
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Phoebe Vale, born in dire poverty in the London slums, has achieved respectability and independence by virtue of a benefactor who saw that she was enrolled in Miss Marietta Endicott’s Academy for Girls where she is presently an instructor. Phoebe has a weakness for the scandal sheets, and thus she is well acquainted with the gossip about Lord Ice, as Dryden is called. But she never expected to see him in Pennyroyal Green in Postlethwaite’s Shop. She certainly never expected to be the object of a kissing bet involving the gentleman.
She also never expected to see him at Miss Marietta Endicott’s Academy for Girls, but there he is. And this time he notices Phoebe and is intrigued by a schoolteacher who behaves in a most unschoolteacherish manner. When Phoebe accepts an invitation from a former pupil, Lisbeth Redmond, to serve as her companion for the summer, she is thrown into the company of Dryden on a regular basis. Lisbeth makes clear her interest in Lord Ice, and he proceeds with his courtship, even as his attraction to Phoebe grows into feelings that complicate all Dryden’s plans. Lisbeth is all he needs in a bride, but it is Phoebe who holds his interest and soon his heart. A match between the two is unthinkable, and Phoebe will be no man’s mistress.
Julie Anne Long takes a conventional plot—lord falls for woman of a lower social class, she rejects his offer of an illicit relationship, all seems hopeless until . . . But Long creates characters who are so compelling that standard plot is a minor point. Phoebe is a survivor, intelligent, funny, sensitive, and strong-willed. She is also what she knows herself to be, not an aristocrat’s daughter born inside or outside wedlock. Dryden is much more than a man of fashion and the envy of his peers. He is a man of substance in the truest sense of that term; he possesses an ultimate reality that underlies all outward manifestations. In what has become a recurring motif in Long’s Pennyroyal books, Dryden and Phoebe see beyond the image that each projects to the person who thinks and feels, dreams and fears, soars, and stumbles, and it is the reality with whom they fall in love.
This is a wonderfully romantic book. That may sound redundant when speaking of a romance novel, but truly it isn’t. I read a lot of romances these days that devote great attention to sex but little to romance. Long doesn’t stint on the heat, and the sexual tension is superbly done, but there are also moments like the waltz scene that reveal not just desire but also tenderness and sentiment and impulsive affection.
As always with a JAL book, the prose is sometimes tactile, frequently lyrical, and always purposeful; it is not opaque and ornamental. Consider how much is revealed about both hero and heroine in this description of Phoebe’s eyes from Dryden’s point of view:
Mutely, he looked at her. Too full to speak. Her eyes were green. He knew that decisively now. A more facile man would have compared them flatteringly to something—leaves or moss or emeralds or some such—but all he would truthfully be able to say was that no one he’d ever known possessed eyes quite hers. It had little to do with their color. It was in the way that over the course of mere days he’d found himself saying things just to see how they would change: how humor would kindle them, and kindness soften them, and anger make them flash, and how he felt when the light of them was turned on him. How he wanted to hold up his hands before them and warm them.
Humor is also part of the appeal of this book. Phoebe and Dryden banter in a fashion that will delight readers who enjoy such exchanges. Phoebe’s cat Charybdis, a feline who has a personality the equal of Hermione Granger’s Crookshanks, has an important role that will leave readers laughing—and wincing. There are appearances by Redmonds and Everseas and tantalizing references to others. There are at least a couple that clearly demand their own books. How the Marquess Was Won is the sixth book in Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. I’ll be content to see the series twice that length. I highly recommend the book--and the series. Book 6 won this reader’s affection and a place on the keeper shelf. I just have one question: What’s next, Ms. Long?
What series has held your interest for the longest? Do you think there’s an ideal length for a series? Have you visited Pennyroyal Green, Sussex?