Olivia has always known that she would not have a full life like her sisters because of her frailty. She has made the decision never to marry but her decision is put to the test when she meets Max, who seems to her to be the most dynamic and exciting man she has ever met.
Maxwell Buchanan, Marquis of Hasley, first sees Olivia from across a crowded ballroom and is instantly drawn to her. He accepts the invitation of Jonathan, Earl of Stratford to join a hunting party at his estate in Sussex in order to get closer to Olivia (who is Jonathan's sister in-law) --
The first thing I noticed about this novel was that the "happily ever after" came very early -- at around Chapter 7, when Max and Olivia both profess their mutual desire for each other (... and act on it).
I wondered what the rest of the novel would be about -- and I have come to expect unconventional twists from Jennifer Haymore --
The novel is mostly about Max and his rivalry with Leonard Reece, the Marquis of Fenwicke -- his rival from childhood. Like Max, Fenwicke is also heir to a dukedom and they have been competing for as long as Max can remember. Fenwicke successfully goads Max into making a bet about Olivia Donovan and, while this is the initial impetus for why Max wants to get closer to Olivia, he forgets the wager altogether once he gets to know her.
Olivia is a strong woman, despite her frailty -- she is decisive and determined -- I like that she was very no-nonsense about having an affair with Max. I also like her relationship with her sisters, which is very frank and honest.
Max didn't strike me as being very interesting -- he seemed like a typical lord with the typical list of interests and pursuits -- his one "dark" thing is that his father killed his mother in a fit of rage and Max is afraid that he might have inherited the same temper.
There are a lot of promising bits in the novel, which I felt Haymore glossed over:
1. Max's history -- Haymore doesn't delve too much into this. When Max and Olivia talk about their mutual aversion for marriage, Max shares (briefly) his family history of madness.
2. Max's estrangement from his uncle (and his uncle and late father's quirky relationship) --
This particular entry in the novel puzzles me:
"...My father and his brother -- my uncle -- had a very close but very competitive relationship. Both of them were fascinated by new-fangled devices and the newest inventions, and they bought them all and showed them off to each other incessantly. They shared many of their new toys and trinkets -- in fact they shared just about everything except the title. My uncle had the dukedom all to himself, and my father never forgave him for that. He was consumed by jealousy. In the end, I believe his own bitterness killed him."
The mention of devices and inventions felt a little non-sequitur for me since this is not something that figures into the novel.
I don't know if Haymore decided to share this bit of information about Max to show us that Max's relationship with Fenwicke is similar to that of his father's and uncle's -- but, unlike the tragic end of Max's father, Max draws strength from his relationship with Olivia and overcomes his rivalry with Fenwicke.
There's a lot of things going on in this novel, there is the side story of Jessica Donovan and Beatrice Reece, Fenwicke's poor abused wife. And there is Serena/Meg and Phoebe and her new baby.
I felt the first book, Confessions of an Improper Bride
was more focused and had more emotional depth -- but this one succeeds in expounding on the story of the Donovan Sisters.
The next novel, Pleasures of a Tempted Lady is set for release this July. I am definitely getting that one. ^_^