Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review of Nicola Cornick's Desired

Title: Desired (Scandalous Women of the Ton #5)
Author: Nicola Cornick
Publisher: HQN Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: November 15, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

Desired is the first Nicola Cornick book I’ve read, but it will not be the last! This was a delightful historical romance that I’ll be re-reading many times, and I can’t wait to catch up on her backlist. There’s plenty of angst to go around, but it’s leavened with a good dose of humor as well, and the mature hero and heroine are a breath of fresh air. Even though Desired is the fifth book in the Scandalous Women of the Ton series, you can read it without having read any of the other books, as this book definitely stands on its own.
Tess Darent, the Dowager Marchioness of Darent, is one of the more scandalous ladies of the ton, but what few realize is that she’s an ardent philanthropist and reformer. Unfortunately, in 1816 there are vicious government crack downs on reformers, who are seen as threatening the established order (and therefore the government). Tess is a gifted artist who has been publishing political cartoons anonymously while she’s leading a reform organization, but if caught she could be imprisoned for her actions.
As the novel begins, former American privateer Owen Purchase, now Viscount Rothbury, is aiding the government in its crackdown on the reformers. When he catches Tess at a brothel, he realizes that she’s involved in the movement, but only a few days after their meeting he’s shocked when she proposes marriage as an attempt to escape prosecution. After all, a husband cannot testify about a wife’s incriminating behavior, and Tess needs a husband’s protection to safeguard her reputation. Rothbury’s intrigued by this woman hiding her true nature behind a scandalous fa├žade, but he’ll have to work hard to convince her to make theirs a true marriage rather than the marriage of convenience she proposes.
Although it took me a couple of chapters to get into the book, once I was about 15% in I was hooked. Owen is determined to court Tess, even though she’s equally determined to keep theirs a marriage in name only, and the courtship between the two is fun, sexy, and tender. We gradually learn along with Owen that Tess’ troubled second marriage left painful scars, but it’s really admirable how Tess has found ways to cope. Owen is a bit rough because of his American upbringing, but he and Tess deal together remarkably well, probably because of their plain-speaking.
I really liked Tess’ character, because despite her obvious pain over the events in her past and society’s determination to view her as scandalous, she finds ways to live a full and meaningful life. Her past is very painful, but I liked how Ms. Cornick dealt with it. Instead of Tess allowing herself to become a victim, she takes charge of her life in the best way she can and extends her aid to others in similar situations.
Unfortunately, the last part of the book felt extremely rushed, especially after Tess and Owen’s wedding. Owen learns that Tess’ second husband sexually and verbally abused her and decides that they should delay the wedding night until Tess can be comfortable with intimacy. So far, so good, but less than a day later Tess decides she’s ready, and they consummate the marriage. It felt a bit bizarre, to be honest. I found it a bit disturbing that she was so quick to jump into bed with Owen after having such visceral reactions to being touched at all by a man only a few hours earlier.
The conclusion also was a bit of a let-down, because it occurred so quickly. The resolution to Tess and Owen’s difficulties with the government in regards to her reformer activities felt a bit too deus ex machina. This is the only time in the novel when I wondered if I would have a different reaction if I’d read the other books in the series, because it seemed to come out of the blue, and the character who intervenes seems to have changed abruptly. I did wonder if perhaps his character was explored more in depth in prior books, and that’s why the ending felt so rushed.
Despite the rushed ending, this was an absolutely charming and delightful read. I’ll definitely be adding Ms. Cornick to my list of favorite historical romance authors, and I look forward to reading more of her books.

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