Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bonus Review: A Wicked Pursuit

A Wicked Pursuit
By Isabella Bradford
Publisher: Ballantine
Release Date:
February 25, 2014

Charles Neville Fitzroy, Earl of Hargreave and heir to the duchy of Breconridge, has decided at the age of twenty-four that it is time for him to settle down and take a wife. Being a man of decisive action accustomed to success, Harry, as he is known to family and friends, selects the Honorable Miss Julia Wetherby, elder daughter of a viscount and one of London’s reigning beauties, as his bride and sets off for her father’s estate in Norfolk to propose. Harry is confident that he will be accepted and impatient with Julia’s games and flirtatious ways that force a delay in his plans. He accepts Julia’s invitation to a ride with her the morning after his arrival, thinking he will have the opportunity to ask for her hand, but his plans again go awry, this time with disastrous consequences. An accident leaves Harry with a broken leg and even after it’s clear that he will survive the complications of fever and infection, he faces a long recovery.

Miss Augusta Wetherby, Julia’s younger half-sister, comes to Harry’s aid when the selfish, flighty Julia flees first the scene and later her home, incapable of facing the consequences of the accident to which she contributed. Gus lacks her sister’s arresting beauty, but her intelligence, kindness, and honor clearly identify her as Julia’s superior in every way that matters. A favorite with the servants because of her fairness and respect for them, Gus is the one her father relies on to serve as chatelaine, even as he allows himself to be manipulated by the beautiful Julia. Her compassion and her sense of family honor mandate that she care for Harry, but Gus, who is innocent but not ignorant, is determined to protect her virtue and her heart from the man who poses a threat to both.

From the moment Harry regains consciousness after his accident, Gus is there. She is his lodestar when he is overwhelmed by pain and confusion, she is the preserver of his sanity when he is mired in the monotony of recovery, and she is the saving grace in an otherwise miserable situation. When Harry still imagines that he is going to marry Julia, he thinks comfortably that Gus will be the little sister he’s never had. As the two grow to know each other better, they become friends who delight in one another’s company. When desire is added to the mix, they both want more than friendship. But Gus sees herself as a country mouse unworthy of the brilliance that is Harry, a brilliance she believes deserves a woman like Julia who will shine with him in London’s brightest circles. Harry, freshly aware that his injury is one from which he will never fully recover, thinks Julia deserves a whole man, not a cripple whose activities will always be limited. Gus and Harry will have to see themselves through each other’s eyes rather than through their own valuations before they can claim their HEA.

Bradford introduces her new Breconridge Brothers series with a story of two likeable characters who grow into love. Gus has lived her life in Julia’s shadow, but she has been content to do so, relishing the country life and her role in the household. A quiet heroine who is far removed from the “kickass heroines” beloved by many readers, Gus is nevertheless no self-abnegating pushover. She stands up for herself when she needs to do so, and she definitely has a temper. She also has an innate goodness and a loving heart. I found these qualities both credible and immensely appealing, and I’m no fan of Griselda types.  

The cover copy describes Harry and his brothers as “London’s most scandalous rakes,” but the Harry readers meet early in the novel seems a rather typical male of his class and time—a bit arrogant and accustomed to the privileges of rank and wealth but basically a decent man who cares for his family and sees himself following in his father’s footsteps as a faithful husband and good parent. He rather foolishly imagines that Julia’s beauty and social status ensure that she possesses all the qualities he desires in a wife, but even his beguilement is typical. It is the accident that changes him both because it is the first time he has encountered circumstances that do not conform to how he sees himself and his place in the world and because falling in love with Gus awakens him to the qualities he truly values in a person. He certainly grows in more obvious ways than does Gus during the course of the story, but even at the beginning, his faults can be attributed to his youth rather than to his fundamental character.

Although A Wicked Pursuit is the first book in a new series, it is loosely linked to Bradford’s previous Wylder Sisters series. Like the earlier series, this one is set in the Georgian Era. (It takes place eight years later.) The Duke of Breconridge is a secondary character in the Wylder Sisters series, and the Duke of Sheffield, Harry’s cousin and close friend and a secondary character in A Wicked Pursuit, is the hero of When the Duke Found Love (Wylder Sisters 3). I enjoy this kind of continuity; I was particularly pleased that Sheffield was accompanied by his dog.
This is not a book filled with high adventure. But if you appreciate quieter, character-driven romances, I recommend A Wicked Pursuit.  The second book in the series, A Sinful Deception, featuring Breconridge’s second son, Geoff and a heroine with a secret, will be released August 26.  I hope it offers glimpses of Harry and Gus’s HEA in progress. I tried to preorder it, but it is not yet available for preorder on Kindle.

I have become really irritated by the assumption in some quarters that a strong heroine has to conform to a particular image of strength. I think there is room in romance for heroines who demonstrate their strength in different ways. What is your idea of a strong heroine?

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