This was an ARC from NetGalley.
This historical romance was more miss than hit for me. It’s the fourth book in Stacy Reid’s Wedded by Scandal series, and centers around Phoebe and Hugh, who enter into a marriage of convenience for different personal reasons.
Phoebe, whose fiancé decided he’d rather be paid off by her family than fight for her hand, finds herself pregnant and at the mercy of her parents, who are determined to send her away until she gives birth, and then have her child send to an orphanage before she reenters society. For his part, Hugh is the bastard son of an earl who has nevertheless legitimized his son’s position and is now pressuring him to marry. They “meet” when Hugh, who because of family history rejects the idea of love, posts a newspaper advertisement for a wife. Phoebe has no intention of applying, but she writes back and begins a period of correspondence they both enjoy. When things take a turn for the worse for her, she flees to his estate in Scotland and asks for protection; they marry, against both families’ wishes, and the rest of the story follows from there.
I did enjoy most of the romantic arc for the main characters. Hugh, aside from being illegitimate, is also mute, and this disability has further cemented his outcast status in London society. A great deal of his interactions with Phoebe, until she learns sign language, are through carefully worded notes from him. He’s also still traumatized from the fact that his mother chose to leave the family, and he puts little faith in love. Seeing him learn how to discuss these fears, and eventually trust Phoebe, is one of the best parts of the story. I also liked the way Phoebe’s pregnancy became a way to examine the plight of children (legitimate and otherwise) in her society.
Where I found the story weaker was in Phoebe’s development. She’s a very young heroine (nineteen when the story begins) and it shows. Her interactions with her parents and brother are filled with melodramatic gestures that felt very over the top. The end result, for me, was that she was much less complex than Hugh, and felt very predictable.
The other big problem for me was in some content and editing issues. Hugh has a brother whose name changes a couple of times, from William to Matthew. Likewise, Phoebe’s own deceased brother is alternately referred to as Francis and Frances. Finally, there’s a scene early on where Hugh takes Phoebe out to the cliffs to paint and release paper lanterns; something that, he says, he learned about during his travels to the People’s Republic of China. Aside from the cultural cringe of the episode, China has only been known by than name since 1949. Unlike spelling and continuity errors, this is kind of a big mistake.
So overall, I wasn’t really on board with this novel. It read like a soap opera, and the more solid aspects tended to wobble underneath all the melodrama.