>> Tuesday, August 07, 2012
IN FOR A PENNYNev, Lord Nevinstoke, is a bit of an irresponsible young man, but he's generally a good guy. He spends his life having harmless fun with his friends, has a mistress he's very fond of and treats well and loves his family. But then Nev's father suddenly dies, and his life changes completely. It appears Lord Bedlow was even more of an irresponsible wastrel than his son, and spent his life neglecting his estate. As a result, Nev receives the shocking news that not only is there no money left, they are in debt, and their country seat is in a bad state.
No more drinking. No more gambling. And definitely no more mistress. Now that he's inherited a mountain of debts and responsibility, Lord Nevinstoke has no choice but to start acting respectable. Especially if he wants to find a wife-better yet, a rich wife. Penelope Brown, a manufacturing heiress, seems the perfect choice. She's pretty, rational, ladylike, and looking for a marriage based on companionship and mutual esteem.
IN FOR A POUND
But when they actually get to Nev's family estate, all the respectability and reason in the world won't be enough to deal with tenants on the edge of revolt, a menacing neighbor, and Nev's family's propensity for scandal. Overwhelmed but determined to set things right, Nev and Penelope have no one to turn to but each other. And to their surprise, that just might be enough.
Nev's mind immediately turns to the young lady he met a few days earlier at a ball, whose Cit father is rumoured to have provided her with a very large dowry. They only exchanged a few words before he had to run off, but she made a very good impression. Since she seemed like a nice, sensible woman, and everyone knows a Cit father's fondest wish is always to have his daughter marry a titled gentleman, Nev decides he'll try his luck.
Penelope Brown is very surprised when the young lord she met only once before suddenly shows up and proposes. Her father expressly tells her he's perfectly fine with her rejecting him (in fact, he pretty much expects she will), but there's just something about Nev that gives Penny pause. So instead of rejecting him out of hand, Penny very sensibly sets her conditions for a marriage she could be content in. And when Nev accepts them, things move fast, and before they know it, they're married.
Marriages of convenience are amongst my favourite plots in romance, and this was a particularly good one. Nev and Penny go into their marriage with their eyes wide open and good intentions. There are no big misunderstandings or evil, jealous rivals trying to drive a wedge between them. And it's still hard work to make the marriage work. Lerner shows this beautifully, because the difficulties come straight from who these people are and where they come from.
Even though they are increasingly fond of each other, and there is plenty of sexual attraction between them, Nev and Penny are, to all intents and purposes, strangers. Even more, they are strangers who have been placed in a very difficult situation. The estate, to which they move straight after the wedding, is in a really sorry state. The problem is much more than that it doesn't make a profit, it's that it is not succeeding in even providing a living for the tenants. Circumstances are tough (no thanks to the other large landowner in the area and his obsession with keeping any sort of rebelliousness quashed), and both Nev and Penny feel the responsibility for some many people very keenly.
There are no easy solutions here and Nev is no super man. He's not rich and powerful, or some sort of financial genius (that's more Penny's role in their relationship). They have to work hard and find how they complement each other, how Penny can do a good job working with the steward on the hard numbers and Nev can provided the understanding of the people around them.
Still, the operative word here is "hard", and it's no wonder that at one point, Nev quite clearly longs for his previous life back, in spite of his developing feelings for Penny. It's a testament to how much he grows up during the book that he sticks to his guns and to his determination to fulfil his duties, and that both he and Penny understand that those fleeting feelings don't have to doom their marriage. I really liked the way Lerner showed us the gradual way in which their feelings for each other develop, and they slowly feel their way towards a happy, fulfilling relationship.
The only negative in the book was the ending. First there's a weird, completely out-of-character behaviour by some secondary characters that throws everything into an uproar. And then, is there some sort of editorial diktat that, at some point, the heroine's life must be in danger, no matter how stupidly she needs to behave to be put in that position? Seriously, that's the only way I can justify level-headed Penny's actions near the end, and the way the antagonist (whose motivation had previously had some nice subtlety) turns into a pantomime villain and goes completely off the rails. A shame, that.
Still, a lot to enjoy here. A very promising first book, and I'm off to buy her second straight away!
MY GRADE: A B.