Saturday, August 20, 2011
Susanna Burney and James Devlin were young and in love but on their wedding night Susanna panicked and ran. She found herself penniless and alone and in his heartbreak James took a commission with the navy and sailed away. Over the next ten years Susanna lost the baby she carried and promised to take care of her friend's twin children on her deathbed. She falls into a profession; she is paid by wealthy parents who want to break their children apart from unsuitable mates. Her latest employment takes her to London where she is hired by the Duke and Duchess of Alton to separate their son, Fitz, from Francesca Devlin, James' sister. This throws them into the same circles and James is furious that his former wife is throwing herself at a selfish bastard like Fitz and that her appearance has thrown into question his own determination to wed Lady Elise for her money. Despite his knighthood the Devlin's are actually facing mounds of creditors and marriage into the aristocracy could be the only way to save them.
The two engage in mutual blackmail; each hoping that the other won't reveal the others' past. James decides to try and keep Susanna away from Fitz as much as possible, but throwing himself in front of her has unforseen consequences for both of them. They are both angry at each other and upset about what happened in the past but the feelings, and the lust, they felt for each other have not disappeared. While they are still both angry and upset they cannot keep their hands of each other, even while James is convinced that Susanna betrayed him and is no better than an adventuress. Although he does not know precisely why Susanna wants Fitz, he is angry and possessive at the idea of her with another man and finds their courtship confusing. The more time she spends with Fitz the more she realizes she cannot continue with her sham romance, but she worries about his reaction when she tell shim more of her secrets. When the truth comes out about their relationship it will cause a huge scandal and possibly bankruptcy, but together they want to conquer everything.
Nicola Cornick's books have been up and down for me because I love her writing style and the emotion she puts into her books and the development of her characters. Unfortunately she also has a tendency to right protagonists who are so emotionally entangled with each other that they have trouble being polite or nice or loving towards each other. This is the case in Notorious with James and Susannah spending a large portion of the book upset with each other, feeling hurt about what has happened, and really taking it out on the other. There was a lot of history between them so I was not expecting them to be super happy with each other and loving right from the beginning but to read a romance where every interaction between the character is tinged with the feeling of betrayal and pain is unpleasant for me and I just have a hard time seeing the romance in that. Since the book started after they had met and done the falling in love I felt like I was just supposed to "understand" that they were already in love and therefore they didn't need to be loving towards each other anymore.
I admired Susanna because she found her niche in life and performed her job well and was, for the most part, not ashamed, of the way she earned her living. I did not like the addition of the children she had to care for because I felt like it was an excuse for what she was doing and because it just seemed like an odd little hiccup in the book. I also think her reasons for running were not well explained and their long separation had too many holes in it. James was a typical romance novel hero, well the penniless variety, but I found it hard to admire him because he was unapologetically marrying an unlikable woman purely for the money. His desire to marry his own sister to a selfish bastard also made him hard to like and I did not understand Francesca's desire to marry Fitz. The sex between them was very emotional, fairly hot and definitely not boring, but nothing particularly special. The ending was the only reasonable way for the book to end without veering off into fairy tale land so I liked that it was more realistic than many romance novels.
Rating: Very well written and very emotional, but I did not like the hurt and anger that tinged their interactions and the characters themselves had too many unlikeable flaws.