[Meljean’s Note 12/2/2011: I mentioned this book at Mrs. Giggles’ blog today, and because it’s my favorite, I was thinking about it again and decided to repost this. This is something I’d written up about seven years ago for my old blog in response to a question about whether we have any keepers/favorite books that aren’t A-grade reads. I reposted it once a few years ago when I switched blogs, but the coding on that post has gone crazy, so I’m putting it here again so that I can fix it.]
I couldn’t find a good image, and I don’t have a scanner, so the cover doesn’t really show up well. [Meljean here: I found a new image.] Anyway…I mentioned this book as my favorite in the SBTB meme post, so I thought I should make it clear that although this is my favorite romance novel ever, it isn’t the *best* one I’ve ever read.
THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THIS NOVEL:
~debbie~ gave the book a B-, and I can’t say I blame her. Everything she says is exactly right. There are plenty of things in this book that would normally leave me frustrated, swearing at the characters or the author for certain contrived plot points and resolutions. There are a few character resolutions that actually disappointed me…and yet it is still my favorite romance novel.
Okay, the ‘official’ description of the novel is this:
Beautiful young Georgia Wells had heard ominous rumors about Nicholas Daventry at Ravenswalk. She had heard of the devastating good looks and unpardonable passions of this man exiled to India by his uncle, Lord Raven, for his scandalous behaviour. She had been warned to beware of him by the mistress of Ravenswalk, the ravishing and ruthless Lady Jacqueline Raven.
Now Nicholas Daventry has returned to Ravenswalk. . .to claim the legacy he said was his by birth. . .to wreak the vengeance he said was his due. . .and to plunge Georgia into a dizzying, dazzling vortex of desire, as she discovered that she was now the stranger-in a world of love that this man she did not know knew so very well. . .
This is such a load of crap; not only does Georgia know next-to-nothing about Nicholas when she first meets him, Nicholas is the beta-ist hero ever (okay, maybe not ever…but pretty darn close).
And this book is sweet in the “Oh my god I love to watch them fall in love” way. Both Georgia and Nicholas are so likeable, I fall in love with them falling in love. God, that sounds stupid, but that’s exactly how it is. They’ve both have had shitty things happen to them, but they still enjoy life, both have a wonderful sense of humor; they know the shitty stuff is still out there and take it seriously, but there’s always a sense of fun in their relationship.
Okay, the storyline is this: The book opens with Nicholas waking from a nightmare after humping some nameless girl in India (but the nightmare wasn’t about humping her). He is summoned back to England via a strange note from his uncle. Georgia is a widow, and seamstress to a bitch who keeps her locked in a turret, but she has no way to escape, so she tries to resign herself to a life of drudgery for the Wicked Bitch of the East (and, at the same time, avoid the advances of the creepy stepson of the Wicked Bitch).
When Nicholas returns to England, he finds out that he can’t claim his inheritance (a house that his parents raised him in, and for which he has a deep attachment) unless he gets married in, like, three weeks (I know, I know!) When he gets home and find out the Wicked Bitch has let it fall into terrible disrepair, he is devastated. He sitting on the ground and crying about it when Georgia first meets him. When she expresses her own sadness about the house’s state, he kisses her.
He blinked, and then before Georgia knew what was happening, she found herself being pulled into his arms and kissed. It wasn’t at all like the kisses Baggie had forced on her, which had been clammy and wet and suffocating, nor like Lord Herton’s kiss, dry as parchment, the one time he’d caught her by surprise. This was quite a different sort of thing, but nevertheless it deeply alarmed her, and she took a deep breath and pushed him away, hard.
“You presume greatly, sir,” she said, trying to stop the shaking that had come over her, and wondering why the words sounded so silly.
He ran a hand through his hair, agitated, and took a step backward. “My apologies,” he said. “That was unforgivable. I’m afraid I was overcome by a momentary pang of some hopeless emotion. I trust you won’t send your husband after me, crying for pistols at dawn.”
Georgia shook her head. “He’s already dead.”
“Already…Madam, do you have any sensibilities?”
“Oh, yes, many, although sensibilities aren’t allowed at Ravenswalk, so I suppose I’m out of practice.”
And this is a small example of why I love this book–there is a dry, almost irreverent humor throughout, and each protagonist takes part in it. Neither character broods overmuch (except about things that are brood-worthy, like the creepy nephew and the things going on there). These two characters like each other from the very beginning–there’s no “I love you, I hate you, I screw you, I love you!” stuff going on.
Anyway, that night Nicholas has the swell idea that Georgia is the perfect choice for a wife; he already knows he likes her, she’s beautiful and he’s attracted to her, and he’s in a hurry and she’s in desperate circumstances. Georgia resists, of course–she’s no ninny. She knows that there would be plenty of eligible girls in England to marry him.
And this is where the first misunderstanding comes into play: Georgia comes to the conclusion that Nicholas must be dirt poor, and that is the only reason she finally agrees to marry him. Her response: “Well, I suppose I have nowhere else to go and nothing more important to do.”
Then they get married, start rebuilding the house, save some people from shipwrecks, Nicholas becomes a vegetable for a while, Nicholas discovers how much smaller his penis is than Georgia’s former husband’s, and eventually defeat the Wicked Bitch.
And I love every single bit of it.
But! …there’s the issue of Things That Might Drive Many People Nuts [SPOILER WARNING!]:
I’ve already mentioned the “have to get married to inherit” thingy, and the “Georgia doesn’t know he got rich in India” thingy. I didn’t mind either of these; the first, because it was a small little thing, and fit in with Nicholas’s exile and the Wicked Bitch’s bitchiness, and the second, because it gave the opportunity for the love story to develop. Nicholas, once he realizes that Georgia wants a poor husband, decides to rebuild the house by himself instead of hiring others to do it. Much of the romance and buildup of sexual tension is at this point.
Another misunderstanding is that Nicholas is under the impression that Georgia loved her first husband–and, of course, she didn’t. Not only did she not love him, the sex was terrible due to the Monstrous Penis…so bad that it made her afraid of performing her conjugal duties. Nicholas thinks she just isn’t ready to part with the memory of Poor Farmer Wells (which is another reason why he pretends to be poor–because he wants Georgia to want him, too). But this is all carried off with just the right amount of humor, and resolved halfway through the book.
About five-eighths of the way into the book, there are really no secrets left between them, they know each other completely, and have declared their love to each other–and ~debbie~ is right, it does slow down. There is also the final big issue: the “Georgia is not a commoner as she originally appeared to be” one. Part of the revelation involves the Wicked Bitch and how they get back at her for being horrible and evil. (This is a theme in the entire trilogy, actually–heroes and heroines finding out they aren’t who they thought they were.)
Also: the entire trilogy (NO GREATER LOVE, NO SWEETER HEAVEN, NO BRIGHTER DREAM) has a theme of Faith (primarily Christian). This book has the lightest touch, and I don’t feel that any of them are preachy; Kingsley ties it all into the characters’ development. I’ve read some revies that state this has been an issue for some of her readers in her later books (particularly LILIES ON THE LAKE, THE SOUND OF SNOW). There is, particularly in NO SWEETER HEAVEN, some miracle-working by a certain character who first appears in this book. In NBD, the heroine is raised a Muslim and later becomes Christian, but her personal relationship with God doesn’t change. So, there is a touch of “Inspirational” that might turn someone off–I read it as just having faith, and Christianity just happened to be the majority religion in England at the time. But, as I said, in this book it isn’t so much.
Finally: I’m torn over the fate of the creepy nephew. On one hand, he did some really, really horrible things (killed a cat and put it in Georgia’s bed); on the other, he had some pretty horrible things done to him. I felt that he was working toward a kind of redemption–but in the end (MAJOR SPOILER HERE) he is killed saving Nicholas from the Wicked Bitch. At times I think that maybe he was so tormented that it was better for him to have gone that way; at others, I wish he’d lived to fight against everything the Wicked Bitch had done to his psyche. He was a victim–but he was also responsible for his actions, and I can’t decide if the death is to punish him for those actions…or for being a victim. Or if it is to punish him at all, and I’m just projecting my own muddled sense of justice onto the book. Anyway.
Really lastly: a word about the trilogy. NO SWEETER HEAVEN is probably the better book, in a “I have to grade this on its technical merits and originality and such” and I would probably grade it higher than NGL if I actually graded using A-F or something. (Does that make any sense at all? Do people knock off points on a book they love because of things they feel “shouldn’t” be in a perfect book? I feel the need to, which is why I have so many books in the B or even C range that I’ll never get rid of. It’s like the grade is a technical thing, and the “keeper” is a heart thing.) I reread NSH about once a year; it’s another keeper. A little less for NBD, but even that is still a keeper (actually, it is a “reread certain scenes keeper”).
But Georgia and Nicholas are just…perfect. In less skilled hands, the misunderstandings and plot twists would have turned the book into a wallbanger–but Kingsley made them work for me. And this book makes me feel great.
And that’s why a book that is very likely a B is my all-time favorite romance novel and an A+ to me.
Now I have to wonder: when grading a book/reviewing a book–is there a difference between how you feel about it and what you think of it? Am I going to have to reread Hume to figure this out? Is this the difference between taste and judgment? Normally, I’d call that a guilty pleasure, but I don’t feel this book is a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure, pure and simple.
And are things that can be viewed as a flaw of convention (the virgin widow/unsatisfied widow, for example) no longer flaws in the right hands?