Ordinarily, Lisa Kleypas is one of my go-to authors for romance novels set more or less in Britain's Regency era. This book, however, had so many problems that I can't actually say I loved it. I wanted to love it; I wasn't bored by it; but it just didn't hold together when everything was said and done.
The premise of the book is quite interesting: Julia Hargate and Damon Savage were married as children to fulfill their parents' respective needs: Damon's family needed money, and Julia's father wanted her to be a duchess. Julia, being a 21st-century heroine, bitterly resents her father's machinations and so runs away to become an actress. Meanwhile, Damon has been searching for Julia to address the issue of their marriage, but he has a mistress who claims to be pregnant with his baby, and he's deep in lust with the hottest actress in town, our own Julia under a stage name.
Kleypas's setup is flawed from the start, because she herself seems uncertain about whether or not this arranged marriage would hold up in a 19th-century court of law. Since the characters also seem to waffle back and forth on the issue, the average reader is likely to be thoroughly confused. The solution that Julia is presented with toward the end of the book has little impact because several hundred pages of uncertainty are summarily dismissed with a firm, unequivocal answer. It just doesn't work. Kleypas should have given the reader some insight into her research on the issue, for clarity's sake. If she didn't research it, she should have, because this detail was integral to her plot.
While Julia is a thoroughly modern heroine, Damon really ought to have been used in a medieval romance. Once he figures out that Jessica the actress is Julia his wife, he spends the rest of the book ranting about how she needs to give up her career and focus on him. He was so positively primeval that I really began to wonder if his name was actually Gaston. Julia and Damon allegedly fall in love, but the circumstances of this development are extremely murky, because they never DO anything together. What is the basis of this great romance? He hates her career and she can't imagine life without the theatre in it. The solution to this conflict is eminently predictable and completely unsatisfying, despite Kleypas's best efforts to force readers to accept it. It just doesn't work.
Yet another flaw is the "other man," Julia's boss at the theatre. It's a big mistake for an author to make another character more compelling than the heroine. I spent much of the book waiting for Kleypas to turn Logan into the real hero of the book, and while it seemed like that might happen, Kleypas opted to pick the humdrum route. This is clearly a case of the characters and plot wanting to go one way, with the author forcing them down a different path, much against their will. Logan's devotion to the theatre and his pragmatic approach to love and life invited a turnaround in the name of love. His interests and Julia's dovetail perfectly, and it would have been far more satisfying for Julia to have humanized Logan through her love and their mutual interests. Logan made such an impact before Damon even showed up in the novel that he shouldn't have been thrust to the side. Kleypas could save the situation by giving Logan a book and true love of his own, but the likelihood that it will still feel forced, because readers are still likely to think that this book didn't end as it should have. Alternately, Kleypas could have let Logan have Julia and come up with another heroine for Damon, but Damon just didn't hold up as a hero in his own right; he was more a type. All the ingredients are there, but the execution fell short.
Just for the heck of it, can we have a moratorium on the use of Savage for the hero's name? It's been done to death, done unto cliche. Let it go, already, authors!
Finally, and this actually has very little to do with Kleypas, I deplore the lack of capable editing at most publishing houses. While I would like to believe my favorite authors are cognizant of basic rules of grammar and turns of phrase, I know that that's why we have editors. I'm especially disappointed by the number of times the pronouns I and me are used incorrectly. That's Grammar 101, people. And when there's a mistake on the back of the book (in this case, combining the heroine's real first name with her assumed last name), it's even worse.
I almost always rate books an 8 or a 9, but I give this one a 6. I'll always remember it, but more for what it could have been than for what it actually was.