Beguiling the Beauty, by Sherry Thomas

>> Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TITLE: Beguiling the Beauty
AUTHOR: Sherry Thomas

COPYRIGHT: 2012
PAGES: 304
PUBLISHER: Berkley

SETTING: Victorian-era England and Boston
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Fitzhugh trilogy

When the Duke of Lexington meets the mysterious Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg on a transatlantic liner, he is fascinated. She’s exactly what he’s been searching for—a beautiful woman who interests and entices him. He falls hard and fast—and soon proposes marriage.

And then she disappears without a trace…

For in reality, the “baroness” is Venetia Easterbrook—a proper young widow who had her own vengeful reasons for instigating an affair with the duke. But the plan has backfired. Venetia has fallen in love with the man she despised—and there’s no telling what might happen when she is finally unmasked…
Christian de Montfort, the Duke of Lexington, and Venetia Easterbrook have a history, but it's one she's completely unaware of. Years earlier, when Venetia was married to her first husband, the young Christian became completely obsessed with her, just from seeing her at a distance. The knowledge that she was married, and therefore unavailable to him (when previously, everything he wanted, he got) did some ugly things to him, aided by poisonous innuendo fed him by Venetia's bitter and vindictive husband, who couldn't deal well with having such a beautiful wife.

Years later, Christian's poor opinion of Venetia has solidified even more, even though he has never met her. At a lecture he's delivering in Harvard, someone asks him a question about beauty, and he illustrates his answers by referring to a treacherous beauty he knows of. He thinks he's done it cryptically, but he's not as clever as he thinks, and anyone in the auditorium with any knowledge of English society, recognises Venetia easily from his description. And unfortunately for him, this includes Venetia herself, who's visiting with her sisters.

Venetia is crushed by this completely undeserved and twisted description of herself and her very painful past. When the opportunity presents itself for her to strike back, she grabs it. And thus is born Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg, the mysterious veiled woman travelling in the same ship back to England as Christian. Venetia plots to make him fall in love with her and then reject him, but this being a romance, she soon realises she might not actually want to carry out that plan.

Bits of this plot may sound trite, but it's all in how it is done. The way Thomas writes this story makes it absolutely gorgeous.

There is much here that could be problematic. Venetia's plan is, to anyone who's been reading romance for a while, nothing new. Christian's new obsession with his Baroness, all the while without relinquishing his crush on Mrs. Easterbrook, could have been discomfitting. But to me, it all made sense. Things clicked perfectly, and I completely believed in how these characters behaved.

Venetia's plan was exactly the thing she would have come up with, vengeance, while at the same time proving to this odious man (and to herself) that there's more to her than her beautiful face. And for some reason, I never had much of a problem with Christian's two separate infatuations, as he would have seen them. He was already combining Venetia and the Baroness in his mind from the very start, and I chose to believe his obsession with Venetia, once he's met the Baroness, was just the remains of old feelings and would have fizzled out if they hadn't turned out to be the same woman. In the end, I thought these two connected at a visceral level, and I believed in their love affair.

In addition to Venetia and Christian's story, there is quite a bit here setting up the next two books in the series, which will feature Venetia's brother and sister. It all felt integral to the story and not in the least like pointless sequel-baiting, but in such a short book, this might have contributed to it feeling a little bit short. I got the feeling that as soon as I was digging in and things were getting more and more interesting, it was all over and we were moving on to the HEA. It didn't make the story unsatisfying, really, it just made it not as wonderfully perfect as it could have been.

MY GRADE: An A-.

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