RogerBW's Blog

The Belle of Belgrave Square, Mimi Matthews 04 October 2023

2022 Victorian romance. Julia Wychwood suffers from professionally invalid parents and crippling shyness, and her only escape has been to rely on her friends and to pretend illness herself. But her friends are away for a crucial few days, and her parents are forcing her to socialise. Meanwhile Captain Jasper Blunt, notoriously cruel hero of the siege of Sebastopol, rumoured to have a string of bastards and a haunted estate in Yorkshire, is looking for a rich wife…

It all gets rather complicated. Jasper needs money, and marrying an heiress is clearly a way to get it, especially if she's sickly. Julia finds him terrifying, but when they get a chance to talk it seems he's more complex a character than the mask he wears for the world. He keeps rather a lot of secrets from her, even as he's falling in love – but while I normally despise that kind of behaviour from principals, I must admit that he has some reasons for keeping quiet, even if his methods rather reek of Bluebeard.

And in the end I like these people, even with their secrets and deceptions. For me these are the key ingredients of a romance: that I should like the principals separately, and that I should find their love a plausible one that seems as though it's going to last. In this case we also get the comparative rarity of a heroine with female friends – even if they are out of London when everything starts happening, their immediate reaction on hearing of Julia's sudden marriage is to charge off to Yorkshire to rescue her. And yes, there are references to Beauty and the Beast (and not missing the point the way so many do, that the moral is "handsome is as handsome does"), but never to the extent of taking over the story.

I'm continuing to enjoy Matthews, and I especially appreciate her efforts to anchor her stories in actual contemporaneous concerns rather than simply transplanting modern people into prettier clothes.

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Previous in series: The Siren of Sussex | Series: Belles of London

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