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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'His at Night' by Sherry Thomas

From the BLURB:

Elissande Edgerton is a desperate woman, a virtual prisoner in the home of her tyrannical uncle. Only through marriage can she claim the freedom she craves. But how to catch the perfect man?

Lord Vere is used to baiting irresistible traps. As a secret agent for the government, he’s tracked down some of the most devious criminals in London, all the while maintaining his cover as one of Society’s most harmless—and idiotic—bachelors. But nothing can prepare him for the scandal of being ensnared by Elissande.

Forced into a marriage of convenience, Elissande and Vere are each about to discover they’re not the only one with a hidden agenda. With seduction their only weapon against each other—and a dark secret from the past endangering both their lives—can they learn to trust each other even as they surrender to a passion that won’t be denied?

Everyone always forgives Lord Vere a faux pas (of which there are always, inevitably, many). From spilling food on his clothes, to tripping over rugs and staring none too subtly down ladies’ cleavage. A riding accident when he was 16 left Vere ‘not quite right’, and everyone forgives and ignores his short-comings. Though it is a shame that the attractive Lord Vere is nothing more than an endearing idiot – had he been ‘normal’, surely he would have been the most marriageable bachelor in London.

Little does London know that Lord Vere is less an idiot, and more a brilliant actor. He is a secret agent for crown and country, and finds that posing as everybody’s ‘lovable idiot’ is the best way to go about undetected and unsuspected when on important missions.

Vere’s latest mission is taking him to Edmund Douglas’s estate, a man whose diamond dealings have bought him to the attention of the crown.

Little does Lord Vere know that while he’s busy using a rat-plague distraction to break into Douglas’s estate, Douglas’s niece Elissande Edgerton is desperately trying to break out.

Elissande and her aunt Rachel have been living under Edmund’s tyrannical hand for years now. They don’t leave the estate, aunt Rachel is forever complacent and doped up on laudanum and Elissande doesn’t dare leave her, for fear of what Edmund would do to get revenge.

What Elissande desperately needs is to take advantage of Lord Vere and the party of people who have fled to her uncle’s estate to escape a rat plague. Lord Vere may be an idiot, but he’s a rich idiot. With his money and title, Elissande and her aunt could escape from uncle Douglas’s clutches and start afresh . . .

‘His at Night’ is a stand alone novel from historical romance author Sherry Thomas.

I recently read my first Sherry Thomas novel, ‘Not Quite a Husband’, and was glad to find a favourite new romance author. So begins my trek through Thomas’s backlist, starting with ‘His at Night.’

When we are first introduced to Lord Vere, we’re told about all of his many and varied foibles, and that London society forgives him all of these indiscretions because he is ‘special’. Little does London know (but readers are made privy) to the fact that Lord Vere is actually a secret agent, who hides behind a ‘riding accident’ as the cause of his idiocy, which is really an elaborate cover-up for his true, secret identity.

Elissande Edgerton, meanwhile, is niece to Douglas Edmund, a tyrannical diamond tycoon who has come under the scrutiny of Vere’s secret agency. Elissande is looking for a quick escape for her and her aunt Rachel, who becomes frailer everyday that Douglas keeps her drugged on laudanum.

These two storylines, separately, are pretty big and ‘out-there’. When combined with a marriage plot that Elissande cooks up, in order to escape her uncle, then the mixture becomes downright epic. And running concurrently with Vere and Elissande’s story is that of Freddie and Angelica – Vere’s younger brother and his recently widowed best friend. Freddie had an intense relationship with one Lady Tremaine five years ago, until she broke it off and returned to her husband. Angelica has loved Freddie since they were children, and has been quietly waiting in the wings for Freddie to notice her and proclaim his love . . .

Yes, it is a tangled web Thomas weaves. And things become even more intense when Elissande is successful in her marriage plot, but Vere’s secret idiotic identity has her suspicious . . .

The handsome idiot hadn’t been at all an idiot, had he? He’d been angry, discourteous, and his language had been downright appalling. But he hadn’t been stupid. He’d known very clearly what she’d done to him, which begged the question: Had he been, like her, pretending to be someone he wasn’t?
The thought was a hook through her heart, yanking it in unpredictable directions.

Just as with ‘Not Quite a Husband’, ‘His at Night’ is not at all your typical historical romance. I love that Thomas wrote this big elaborate plot, but it never felt over-the-top or too ridiculous to believe. She writes so beautifully and her characters are so nuanced and lovely, it’s easy to go along on this rollicking ride with them and suspend disbelief. . .

I also really liked the side-story of Freddie and Angelica. We didn’t get a second storyline in ‘Not Quite a Husband’, and that book was certainly not lacking for it, but it felt like ‘His at Night’ was made fuller and more interestingly complex by Freddie and Angelica’s romance. It was nice to compare their slow-burning romance, which had been bubbling along since childhood, to Vere and Elissande’s sudden marriage and sneaking romance.

If there was any one thing that didn’t work for me, it was Vere’s sudden turn-around towards the end of the novel . . . I don’t think we really got a chance to read his chain-of-thought that saw his feelings towards Elissande change. It just seemed to sort of happen – and while there were events leading up to his turn-around, I feel like we went from gradual acceptance to a ‘light bulb moment’. But it didn’t really matter, because I loved Vere and Elissande together regardless.

This is quite a tricky story Thomas is weaving. Between secret agents, pretend ‘idiots’ and an elaborate escape plan, Thomas does a fantastic job of bringing all these rather outlandish plots together to make for a fast-paced, intense historical romance.

4/5

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