Lisa Berne introduces you to the Penhallow Dynasty—men destined to marry, but hesitant to love.
Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow “The Penhallow way”—find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.
But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?
In Berne's lively and well researched debut Regency romance, Livia Stuart knows that hers is far from a fairy-tale existence. She was orphaned at the age of six in faraway India and summarily packed off to live with her sole English relatives. Her Aunt Bella and Uncle Charles see her only as an expense upon Ealdor Abbey, their ramshackle home in Wiltshire County. Now 18, Livia is no real beauty, has no inheritance and little education, and exists in that strange space between servant and gentry that leaves her completely vulnerable and lacking in prospects for advancement. She has a brief but memorable first encounter with wealthy Gabriel Penhallow; their second meeting, at a ball in honor of Gabriel's likely offer of marriage to snooty, condescending Miss Cecily Orr, is far more remarkable, ending with Livia and Gabriel being found in a compromising situation. He awkwardly makes the obligatory proposal to save Livia's reputation, but the two of them struggle to wring happiness from their hasty marriage until Livia decides it's time to stand up for herself and stop to meekly fading into the woodwork. Berne's consistent, engaging writing and solid knowledge of the period make for a wonderful evening's reading.
What Berne did very well here was keep readers engaged with the sweet and spunky Livia
Biddable. Regency man’s code word for mousy, non-questioning, pretty enough to engender other men’s admiration without actually impinging on my desire to continue my life as I choose, without interference or influence by the chosen woman. And it tells me that everyone will be bored to tears, or resentful, and thus continue to prove that marriages in the tonne are on the whole, unfulfilling. And Gabriel wants biddable, and there are few heroes that I have been introduced to who deserve the aftereffects of biddable more. He’s arrogant, spoilt, self-obsessed, and callous with little regard for anyone’s feelings: he’s just frustratingly clueless. The other good thing about the men in romance who demand biddable? They are led, by the nose, on a merry chase, one they are wholly unprepared for. I actually thought it would take a very special woman to want to bother with Gabriel, and I worried that he didn’t have the personality or depth to change.
And then came Livia: raised by her Aunt and Uncle after her parent’s death in India, she’s pretty, different from the other ‘girls’ on the debut tour / husband hunt, and caught up in a moment with Gabriel, and finds herself engaged, and she’s not quite sure she’s amenable. From this point forward, Livia tried (and occasionally failed) to defy the label of biddable: while she did take ‘instruction’ from Gabriel’s grandmother on ‘proper behavior’, she also is trying (repeatedly) to assert some levels of independence, particularly when Gabriel flexes his not insignificant selfish idiot muscles.
As a couple, this was a hard sell for me for most of the book, particularly as the two never seemed to be in the same emotional place at any one time. Conflicts and revelations are shared frequently, and there are plenty, via a series of scenes and moments that feel very much like small vignettes, adding (and some distracting) from the overall trajectory, with so many flip-flops on Livia’s part, including running FROM Gabriel to become a scullery maid and avoid the marriage, I will admit that I didn’t see them finding a way through due to Gabriel’s most strident reactions (early on) were more from a stung pride than actual emotional investment, and he carried that reserve for much of the book.
What Berne did very well here was keep readers engaged with the sweet and spunky Livia, and astound us with the clueless and often asinine behavior of Gabriel, wanting to see him get hit repeatedly by the evolution stick, and find the real man buried under his shell of what he believes he should portray. With several (perhaps too many) different moments of conflict, multiple threads that shared backstories and dreams and a couple of twists that harkened back to books in his genre from twenty or thirty years back in terms of coincidental / contrived scenes set to give the man an emotional awakening, the story still held together and kept me reading through. I can honestly say that Gabriel wouldn’t be my choice for a hero, but he did grow and evolve into a decent character, all because the one he most believed needed to be ‘biddable’ wasn’t. I’m ready for the next book!
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Avon Addicts and Edelweiss. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.