My Favorite Marquess by Alexandra Bassett
Violet Treacher, the daughter of a merchant, had to fight tooth-and-nail with her ex-husband's noble family to get them to bequeath her Trembledown Manor in Cornwall. Sebastian Cavenaugh, Marquess of St. Just, is determined to once more make Trembledown a part of the St. Just estates and use it as a base of his operations against smugglers, spies, and French conspirators. When Violet refuses to sell the estate to St. Just and he eggs her on, she heads out to what turns out to be a decrepit building fraught with holes and feral cats, in an area haunting by the dreaded smuggler Robert the Bruce. Turns out the Bruce is merely St. Just in disguise as he goes undercover as a spy to try to uncover the identity of Nero, an Englishman who passed information on to the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Finding his (or her) identity becomes even more important when word reaches our hero that Napoleon has escaped from Elba and the situation in France makes the country ripe for another revolution.
Violet finds herself inordinately attracted to the Bruce after he waylays her carriage and the two spend a passionate, if unfulfilled, night together that Violet cannot completely remember, however she is disgusted with St. Just's arrogance and believes he looks down on her for her merchant back round. St. Just has to fight his jealousy over Violet's suitor, Binkley Jacobs, a neighbors nephew and is worried that either of them could possibly be Nero. St. Just's co-worker rushes over to Cornwall when it becomes obvious that St. Just is letting his feelings for Violet cloud his judgement and he strikes up a little romance with her spinster cousin, Henrietta. Things come to a head at a masquerade ball where St. Just reveals his identity as Robert the Bruce and Violet is naturally disturbed. Eventually she comes to realize that she has the best of both worlds (ugh Hannah Montana reference)- she has Robert the Bruce and the Marquess of St. Just. Perfecto!
This book was hilarious- Violet's dialogue and internal musings are seriously laugh out loud funny. Musings on the ramshackle house, the incompetent staff, and the arogoncy of St. Just make Violet entirely likable, despite her inherent snobbery and completely unapologetic selfishness. I feel like St. Just was nowhere near as well developed as Violet as we definitely get a lot of information on her and a vast majority of the story is told from her point of view. Unfortunately the two of them spend more time arguing, with her not knowing who he really is and him being far too patronizing about it for my taste, than getting steamy together. The best scene occurs 50 pages into the book and even the buildup is to the final completion is almost non-existent. And there is a super awesome masquerade ball where Violet dresses up as Anne Boleyn and to distinguish her character her sister suggests that someone carry an axe and a block around behind her.
There was also a cute little extra romance that was cute and didn't take up too much space, but it did provide some nice little bits of angst. Unfortunately the Sebastian/ Violet plot did not really have too much time for angst as, instead of brooding about what was happening, the two confronted each other and talked about issues. It was definitely different than what I'm used to. And the side plot of spies and smugglers was also nice and didn't take up too much time, although it did provide an avenue for some fun confusion and of course the big discovery at the end which is handled really well with Violet acting exactly as one would expect her to act in the situation. This book has the typical kidnap and rescue resolution at the end, although the book doesn't quite end at that point, but it did have the (incredibly popular) problem of attributing amazing magical powers to the words, "I Love You."
Rating: The most humorous romance novel I've read, a heroine I absolutely loved despite her hateability and a sister team writing together. More steam and more St. Just would have been appreciated.