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Agony's Shelf: 'The Reluctant Suitor'
Adriana Sutton, prized beauty of Bradford on Avon and much of the rest of England, is the third and last available daughter of a wealthy earl and the most desired woman in a hundred miles. Unfortunately for her bevy of suitors she's already promised in an arranged marriage to Colton Wyndham, lately returned from Waterloo and ascended to his late father's marquessate. Colton himself rejected the contract long ago, fleeing Adriana and his family to enlist and spending all the intervening time far from home. He is quickly seduced by Adriana's transformation from ugly duckling to peerless swan but is still reluctant to surrender his independence and marry to fulfill the terms of a contract, rather than for love. Fortunately there is a way to escape his fate: if he courts her sincerely for three months and still decides against a betrothal, the contract will be dissolved.
Beautiful though she may be Adriana has little confidence she will be able to seduce her official and most wayward suitor into a marriage bed. She highly underestimates her effect on Colton but he is still determined to marry a woman chosen by him, and not his father. Their tug-of-war confuses both of each other's feelings as well as their own.
Our reluctant suitor is reluctant indeed; he doesn't verbally agree to the required three months of courtship until page 197 of this 486 page volume, and the courtship doesn't actually begin until page 283. If you hope that all intervening space will be filled with action, or at the very least titillating period dialogue, you are to be disappointed; it is primarily home to adjectives and adverbs.
On the whole I would recommend you not be fooled by the hardcover presentation and demure time period. This book would be better in paperback with a half-naked man on the front, perhaps holding a half-fainted woman, for that is the type of novel you should expect. The description is overwrought to a level that will fatigue even the most experienced reader; for every line of action or dialogue there are at least three paragraphs of description, much of it sexually charged descriptions of Adriana from Colton's point of view. Your Aunty loves her romances as much as the next reader but I am now cured of any need I might have had to read the words 'orbs', 'mounds', 'pale', or 'creamy'.
Abandon completely any hope of historical accuracy you might have, as well as any expectation of conscientious editing. Words are switched- 'piece' and 'peace', for instance- and there are even one or two misspellings and grammatical errors that left me sorely disappointed in the editor. Redundant alliteration of the worst kind is also rampant, with the phrase 'fatally fatal' coming quickly to mind. The characters sometimes speak in a way inappropriate to the Napoleonic era, and the fashions! Well, my dear, there is nothing good to say there.
If you can put all of these out of mind you will find a few bright spots in this landscape. Some of the exchanges between Adriana and Colton are enjoyable, and surprisingly the story picks up AFTER their courtship is decided. There is a secondary story you may even find substantially more invigorating.
In short, for a patient and experienced reader undaunted by a mire of tell instead of the proverbial show and willing to overlook many, many inaccuracies both of writing and of period this lukewarm story will entertain, but only once. Not suitable for any reader under sixteen.
Your Truly Devoted,