Being well-verse in the rules of historical romances, I know (well, we all do) that said woman will, at the very least, end up proposed to by said earl. Such pairings are rare in historical romancelandia, you must admit. It's usually of equal standing or, at the least, aristocrat / gentry. And, she's not a pretty, somewhat brainless debutante - but an older woman (well, mid-20s, which is older in this world) with opinions she's not afraid to articulate.
That's one of the great things about modern authors of historical romance - they're not afraid to shake conventions up a little (or a lot). This one is set during the Napoleonic War period (the wider-Regency period), which tends to have marriages between social equals. (Novels set slightly later might have an untitled, but rich, American heiress.)
Emma Fairbourne's character is well-drawn, with all the stresses, distress, fear and despair her situation places her in. Southwaite's actions are also understandable. Nothing really comes out of left-field, and their relationship develops in believable ways. That said, their emotions are shown more through action, rather than internalised monologue.
A couple of quibbles, though:
It was a bit surprising when Emma suddenly called him Darius. On page 291, she is using Southwaite, on page 304 it's Darius - with little private interaction between them in the intervening pages. In historical romancelandia, much is usually made of the change to personal names, rather than titles.
Then there's a continuity error (at least, I'm pretty sure there's one). On the night of the big auction, on page 211, Emma is described as wearing a dusty lavender dress. On page 234, Southwaite internally mentions the dove gray of the dress she had worn to the auction. Nit-picking, I know, but it did jolt me out off the reading, and to flicking back through to verify my suspicions, as my head says 'hold on, I thought she was wearing lavender?'
But, I will be waiting for the others in the series. What is the story of Lydia, Southwaite's sister? What is Cassandra's full history? Does Kendale become human? Preferrably with the help of the mysterious Marielle. I'd guessed that the other pairings would be Ambury and Cassandra, and Kendale and Marielle. I would also like more on Lydia.
Now, my first supposition is borne out by the pre-release info on The conquest of Lady Cassandra - yes, Ambury and Cassandra.
Books I thought of, while reading this one:
- A civil contract by Georgette Heyer. Same period. Some societal mis-match. Plain-spoken female 'cit', with far less polish than Miss Fairbourne - and physical appeal. But, this is a marriage of convenience.
- The toll-gate by Georgette Heyer. Same period. Some skullduggery with a female trying to protect her family.
- The river knows by Amanda Quick. Working woman and titled hero.