Once a Gentleman, by Candice Hern

>> Monday, July 16, 2007

TITLE: Once a Gentleman (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Candice Hern

COPYRIGHT: 2004
PAGES: 373
PUBLISHER: Avon

SETTING: 1802 London
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: This series is centered around the Ladies' Fashionable Cabinet, a magazine that is purportedly a harmless diversion for those weak-minded women, but which in reality subtly preaches republican and equality-minded messages. The first book is Once a Dreamer, followed by Once a Scoundrel. Once a Gentleman is the third and last in the trilogy.

REASON FOR READING: I liked the other two books, especially the first one.

Prudence Armitage is his dearest friend… until a compromising position changes everything.

Nicholas Parrish had no intentions of taking a bride, and certainly not someone like Prudence. Of course she's charming, pleasant, and a diligent employee of The Ladies' Fashionable Cabinet, the magazine Nicholas and his sister run from his home. Prudence may even be considered pretty, when you look past the mousy hair and dreadful glasses. But when she falls asleep at her desk and remains in his town house all night, her irate father demands satisfaction. And being a true gentleman, Nicholas agrees to do the proper thing.

Though marrying Prudence never crossed his mind before, he has to admit there is an intriguing and desirable side to her he's only just beginning to see. But Nicholas may need to reconsider his plans for a marriage "in-name-only" especially now that Pru has decided to make herself totally irresistible.
THE PLOT: With Edwina, the Ladies' Fashionable Cabinet editor, on her honeymoon, Prudence Armitage has temporarily taken over her duties. She's spending long hours at the house which Edwina used to share with her brother Nicholas, which is where the Cabinet's offices are located.

One night, Pru falls asleep over her work and ends up spending the entire night in Nicholas' house. The horror, the scandal! Yep, that's what her father and brothers think when they find her there the next morning. She and Nicholas will get married and never mind that nothing actually happened between them.

Pru has had a huge crush on Nicholas practically forever, but she's horrified at the idea of having him marry her because he had no choice. As for Nicholas, he feels guilty for being so careless as to allow this to happen to poor Pru, and so he promises he'll give her as much time she needs to feel ready before they consummate the marriage. It's not such a hardship, after all, because it's not as if he's at all sexually attracted to her. At least, not at first...

MY THOUGHTS: I've got somewhat mixed feelings about this one. Throughout the whole book there were certain things that were very nicely done, but others which weren't so good. There was nothing really bad, mind, but a few elements felt a bit tired and clich├ęd.

At the beginning, I liked Nick much, much better than Pru. She's such a doormat in those early pages! Her family keep taking advantage of her, and she doesn't even feel a little bit of resentment. She actually feels guilty when her stupid sister scolds her for not being on hand to manage her (the sister's) servants. It doesn't even cross Pru's mind to tell her "manage them yourself, you useless cow". I don't necessary wanted her to actually say it, but please, a bit of rebellion, if only inside her mind!

Nick, OTOH, is really great at the beginning. The guy has been trapped into a marriage he never would have seeked, through no fault of his own (his guilt for not preventing such a situation? Completely baseless). It's natural that he would be angry. He is, but he's mature enough to realize that it wasn't Prudence's fault either, and he treats her accordingly. He's always liked her and considered her a friend, and the marriage doesn't change this.

The best thing about the book was the way Hern wrote the change in Nick's feelings about Pru. It's a slow process in which he goes from not noticing Pru at all as a woman to going practically crazy with lust over her, and it was excellently done. It was slow and gradual and felt natural. I liked how he initially started noticing the good things about her when he realized the injustice of her overbearing family taking her so much for granted, and I loved the way he championed her in front of them from the very beginning.

However, as much as I liked the gradualness of this process, I wasn't too convinced by the device through which they're kept from coming together sexually from the very start. That conflict got tiresome after a while. It's like this: Nicholas doesn't want to go to his wife's bed before she's ready. Given that whenever he gets near... say, gives her a quick kiss on the lips, she jumps, he concludes that she'll obviously take a long while to really feel completely ready. So no matter how much he now wants her, he'll keep away. But it's all a lack of communication, because Pru is VERY ready, has been so since the very first day. It's just that she doesn't know how to convey it, and no way she'll come right out and say it.

So there's a lot here about Nicholas completely misinterpreting all of Pru's very obvious signals (I thought he was this huge rake, with lots of experience with women?) and of Pru's disastrous attempts to flirt. She tries to take lessons from the Cabinet's fashion editor, a former courtesan, so we get treated to some very unamusing scenes of broad comedy with Prudence looking ridiculous when she tries to entice Nick. She pokes herself in the eye with her fan, bats her eyelids so fast Nick thinks something got into her eye, lurches around the room when she's trying to be sexy, etc., etc., etc. Rinse and repeat.

Even more problematic was the conflict caused by Nick's refusal to even consider making use of Pru's money, even though he's not in such a good economic position himself. I did understand his pride, but it didn't completely fit in with his egalitarian, republican ideas, which should have made him more open to entering into a true partnership with a wife, not giving in to the silly idea that the man must be the provider and that's that. I liked that at one point Pru really lets it rip and tells him exactly what she (and I, actually) thought of it, but in the end, the way Hern resolved the issue was a total cop-out.

This is one of those books which looks worse in hindsight than it felt as I was reading it. I quite enjoyed it, even as I rolled my eyes at some of the things that bothered me. Plus, I really like the premise of the Cabinet and these characters' heartfelt Republican convictions.

MY GRADE: I'm in a good mood today, so B- it is.

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