Form: e-book, Kindle format
Genre: historical romance
Target audience: adults
Gareth Carhard, the Marquess of Blakely et cetera, a gifted scientist, an aristocrat and a sworn, stone-cold bachelor, has just returned from Brazil to take care of the estate and the title left to him by his grandfather. He is bored in London but he must perform his duties. For example he must save his younger cousin, Ned, from the clutches of a skillful and fraudulent fortune-teller. Ned takes him to Madame Esmerelda (a.k.a Jenny Keeble) asap– poor boy thinks that woman is a god-sent psychic, never realizing she’s been bilking him for almost two years. In his view Madame saved him from a suicide during a bout of teenage depression and she has always acted like the combination of an indulgent, although a bit spooky parent and a best friend to him. It was enough he paid for her time. Gareth doesn’t understand Ned at all. He yearns for revealing the truth behind the obviously false persona of Madame Esmerelda. That’s how he gets entangled with a woman who, coming from a humble background, managed to find for herself an original and relatively profitable if not shady career. A dangerously intelligent woman. A voluptuous woman. In short an unusually interesting woman for a Marquess and a single man. Gareth’s unexpected attraction to Jenny defies his notion of logic. Will their relationship bring them more joys or more bitterness ? Who will win and who will profit from it?
What I liked:
It’s the second historical romance by this author which I read and, actually, Ms. Milan’s debut novel. I was slightly shocked it was so good. Once again it’s a bit different than the normal romantic fare. First of all I would like to mention psychologically complex and engaging set of characters. Ned, Gareth and Jenny are very close to fully-fledged people, well-rounded and believable from the psychological point of view. Their actions are always logical and justified by their particular psychological profile. I especially liked the descriptions of Gareth’s poor attempts at communication with the outside world– the guy is one of these painfully shy introverts who never know what is expected from them and what to say so they have learned to cover any shortcomings by haughtiness and disdain. It was described very well and, being a kind of introvert myself, I could relate to him.
Jenny is the linchpin of the novel – a person who makes things happen even though she doesn’t always mean it. I liked the fact that her romance made her see her shady profession in a different light. She also had the courage to ditch it. The awakening in both Jenny and Gareth was a poignant moment – definitely more serious than topics usually mentioned in pink romances. I don’t doubt that nowadays Jenny would have a great career as a psychologist as she was intelligent enough to learn pretty quickly what her clients expected from her and she understood why they visited her at all – not for predictions but for support. What’s more, she educated herself in different areas in order to sound plausible and she was pretty successful at it. I also liked the fact that she learned to value her own person and she really knew what she wanted to achieve before anybody suggested that to her.
Once again the book features a plot which didn’t disappoint me and the sense of humour which was able to disarm me successfully – Ned, a gawky, sweet young man, and his cold but socially inept cousin providing much needed comic relief time and again (Ned’s exchange of invectives with Lord Ware, the father of his prospective bride, was simply priceless). In general I found Ned a great addition to the leading pair – his actions pushed the narration forward, not letting us dwell too much on the turmoil and passion between Jenny and Gareth (no, they didn’t wait till the marriage because, firstly, marriage was never their plan and secondly, Jenny was already a kind of a fallen woman so why bother?).
What I didn’t like:
Of course I didn’t like the fact that, in the end, somebody like Lord Blakely married somebody like Jenny Keeble/Madame Esmerelda. How could I like it? It was totally improbable, downright scandalous etc. etc. but who will listen to my arguments? Cinderella rules…In other words, the book sticks to the classic pink formula – as soon as Gareth realizes he can’t live without Jenny he jumps through a few last hoops and she agrees to marry him. No, I don’t think it is a spoiler as I saw the ending from a mile away, but I admit it was kind of sweet. However, I had to brush my teeth afterwards just in case there was too much sugar in it. J Cavities are no laughing matter.
Jenny is a heroine who pulled herself by her own bootstraps against all odds although she was sent to school at a tender age of four (way too young), never knowing her parents, and was never cared after in an appropriate way. Once again I might just say it was highly unbelievable that she became such an intelligent, sensitive woman but who will pay attention? Repetitive, aren’t I? Speaking about repetitiveness…I also noticed some of it in the book (comparing ‘Proof by Seduction’ to the first Milan book which I read and reviewed not so long ago – ‘Unclaimed’) but I suppose there is a limited number of variations how e.g. a love-making scene can be written so perhaps it is not so big a flaw…still when two very different characters repeat verbatim the same phrases it makes you think ‘huh?’.
Overall I must say that explicitly-described sex scenes, a traditional feature in romance novels as far as I know, are more often than not a complete passion-killer for me. The ones in this novel weren’t very bad but still... sometimes really less is more.
My final remark: if you are looking for setting that can immerse you into the period of 1830s England or, more precisely, London, you would probably be left a bit disappointed – but, after all, this is more about the characters and their interactions within the given setting. And the romance, of course.
If you are looking for a light read with a well-balanced amount of humour, sensuality and strength throughout the story and with a great set of lifelike characters, Milan’s novels can give you that much. Don’t be too inquisitive or too choosy though, just immerse in the narration and enjoy your HEA. If you find it a tad too syrupy sweet, just brush your teeth and you’ll be fine. J