Marrying Winterborne, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Sunday, July 03, 2016

TITLE: Marrying Winterborne
AUTHOR: Lisa Kleypas

PAGES: 416

SETTING: Victorian England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 2nd in the Ravenels series

A ruthless tycoon

Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better . . .

A sheltered beauty

Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable . . . the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss. And it all begins with…

Marrying Winterborne
I sort of abandoned Kleypas after reading her contemps. Her "billionaire businessmen are amazing!!" gushing really put me off and felt very pre-2008. When she went back to historicals with Cold-Hearted Rake last year I wondered if I should go back, but that one didn't particularly call to me. This, the second book in the series, did. My one bookish resolution is to worry less about reading series from the start, so I went for it.

Marrying Winterbourne being the second book in the series does show quite a bit, particularly at the start of the book, as the whole beginning of the main relationship happened in book 1. In that book, self-made tycoon and owner of the world's biggest, most profitable and all-around most amazing department store, Rhys Winterborne accompanied his friend (the cold-hearted rake of the title, I take it) to take possession of an earldom the latter had unexpectedly inherited. They were apparently caught up in a train crash and Winterborne was pretty poorly for a while. He was nursed by Helena, his friend's new-found cousin, and sister of the previous Earl.

Helena was innocent and naive and spent a lot of time with Winterborne, who fell madly in lust with her. At some point they became engaged (we're told his proposal was very much a sort of business proposition), but that didn't last long. The end of it, as far as I could tell by reading this, came when he kissed her a bit too passionately and her reaction triggered a migraine. Then the heroine of the previous book took it upon herself to tell Winterborne the engagement was over, even though Helena had wanted nothing of the sort. All of this is backstory, and we're told it right at the start of the book, in a way that felt a bit flat. Lots of telling, no showing.

As the book starts, Helena is determined to get her engagement back. Contrary to what Winterborne thought, she hadn't accepted the engagement because of the excellent arguments he made about how much he could give her, being so incredibly rich. Nope, Helena found Winterborne really attractive and intriguing, if a bit frightening, and couldn't wait to marry him and live a less circumscribed life. Winterborne is in no mood to listen at first, but she soon convinces him that she really, really does want to marry him (enough to prove it by allowing him to "ruin" her).

So they become engaged. And nothing much happens. Helena finds out a secret that she fears will put Winterbourne off marrying her, but it's obvious it won't, and that he'll put her mind at ease as soon as she tells him about it (the resolution of this conflict is extended by Helena refusing to have the conversation and instead deciding to spend just a bit more time with Rhys before it all ends, as that will be all she has to sustain her in her old age -great reasoning, and one of my least favourite romance tropes). There's a damp squib of a blackmail plot, with a blackmailer who quite obviously poses very little danger and generates very little tension. And there is the rescue of a little girl, including a sword/cane-wielding female doctor who was by far my favourite character in the book. That last bit was fab, but unfortunately lasted for only a few pages.

Eh. You can probably tell from my descriptions that I found a lot here quite tedious. The book started well enough, in spite of the backstory infodump. I liked Helena. She's a little bit terrified of Rhys, but she realises it's a good terrified, and he's the most exciting thing that's likely to happen to her in her life. So she takes things into her own hands and takes the risk to go see him. And she stands her ground and absolutely does not let him intimidate him. For the rest of the book, though, the relationship didn't live up to that start. Kleypas really plays up the contrast between the upper-class, delicate blonde innocent and the big, working class dark brute, which is not my thing. It was relatively inoffensive, though, as Helena does have a spine and Rhys shows quite a bit of respect for her wishes. But it wasn't that interesting, and to be honest, for a long time all that was happening in their relationship was far too many sex scenes that didn't add anything.

I think Kleypas is now an author whose sensibilities just don't work for me. I just could not stand her gushing -there really isn't a better word to describe it- both about the nobility, and about just how incredibly rich Rhys is and how wonderful his department store is and just how many amazing luxury goods he stocks. He is, at least, pretty progressive (takes care of his workers, is happy to hire women for high-responsibility roles), but that only makes it more weird when we get things like this bit:

“A department store?” Lady Berwick sounded disconcerted. “I only frequent small shops, where the tradesmen are acquainted with my preferences.”

“My sales clerks would show you the greatest variety of luxury goods you’ve ever seen in one place. Gloves, for example—how many pairs do they bring out for you at a little shop? A dozen? Two dozen? At the glove counter at Winterborne’s, you’ll view ten times that many, made of glacĂ©ed kid, calf suede, doeskin, elk, peccary, antelope, even kangaroo.” Seeing her interest, Rhys continued casually, “No fewer than three countries have a part in making our best gloves. Lambskin dressed in Spain, cut in France, and hand-stitched in England. Each glove is so delicate, it can be enclosed in the shell of a walnut.”

“You offer those at your store?” the countess asked, clearly weakening.

“Aye. And we have eighty other departments featuring items from all over the world.”

“I am intrigued,” the older woman admitted.
Yay for big department stores putting small shopkeepers out of business!

I was also seriously annoyed by the essentialisation and objectification of Rhys's Welsh background. There's a constant litany of "I'm Welsh therefore this", "I am like this because I'm Welsh". Yes, it's all positive ("Ohhhhh, Welshmen are so hawt!"), but that doesn't make it any less distasteful.

In general, this felt old-fashioned to me. It's just the sort of historical that I would have really liked back in the 90s, when I was first starting out in my romance reading and something like this would have felt wonderful compared to old-school bodice-rippers. But now I tend to prefer something that's a bit more subversive when I read historical romance, something that questions the setting a bit more, rather than celebrate it. This is not it.



Bona Caballero 5 July 2016 at 07:02  

This was a three-star novel for me. I liked the first one in the series better. But generally speaking, I agree with the things you say here. I wondered if this novel could be read as a stand-alone, and I see that it can't. Everything important between these two people happened in the first book and as you say, then nothing happens for a long part of the book.
I prefer Kleypas' historicals better than her contemporaries and I still enjoy her historical books. So for me reading this book was a nice experience.
While I was reading this book I was enjoying it but there was something that made me uncomfortable now and then. And it wasn't the lack of a real plot. I didn't know what it was until I read your review. It's that millionaire's thing, the opulence and the luxury and that idea that you represented so well with the gloves episode. It made me 'socially uncomfortable'.
Anyway, I did enjoy this book.

Rosario 8 July 2016 at 11:52  

Bona: That's the feeling I got, that the things we were told had happened would have been a lot more exciting than what we were seeing here!

And "socially uncomfortable" is a very good way of describing how the book made me feel!

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