by Fresh Fiction Senior Reviewer Miranda Owen
Although THE DUKE AND I is all anybody can talk about right now, and the first in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, it is not my favorite of the series or book by Julia Quinn. Instead, THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND, part of the Rokesby series, is my favorite “fake relationship” story by Julia Quinn. Years ago, when I was just a teenager, I remember being thoroughly annoyed by Cathy in Emily Bronte’s classic novel WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t wait for Heathcliff to return instead of marrying someone else. At the time, my older and much wiser aunt laid out some of the realities women at that time faced. It may not have been as romantic that Cathy didn’t wait forever, but it was ultimately and more pragmatic. However, in THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND, Cecilia Harcourt makes some questionable choices but for good reasons. She’s alone in the world except for her brother Thomas. When Thomas is injured in battle, she bravely travels to be by his side. Instead of her brother, she finds Edward Rokesby, a wounded officer and a gentleman in much need of some TLC. It being the late 1700s, in order to care for him as closely as she needs to, she claims to be his wife. He has no memory of much, so he buys it. A romance of the very unconventional variety, but so typical of a Julia Quinn story, progresses to a satisfactory conclusion.
Lake Daphne in THE DUKE AND I, Miss Penelope Prestwick in HOW TO DAZZLE A DUKE by Claudia Dain, is an “it” girl of the moment and incredibly determined to see her plans for her future carried out exactly the way she intends. What she is focused on is landing a duke, and specifically the Duke of Edenham. Woe to anyone to thinks to get in her way. She’s a force of nature and a combination of beauty and tenacity. She approaches the unsuspecting the Marquis of Iveston and asks him to help her out by pretending an interest in her, thereby making her more desirable to her duke of choice. She gets more than she bargains for because, although Iveston seemed like the agreeable type in previous books, there is something about them both that brings out the prickly side. Soon a war of biting wit turns to passionate clenches. Although HOW TO DAZZLE A DUKE is the fourth book in Claudia Dain’s stellar “Courtesan Chronicles” series, it was the first in that series I read. Within the first few chapters, I was laughing out loud and reminded of some of my favorite Julia Quinn humorous scenes. In one chapter (or more), people keep adding and adding to one room in the house and it’s like a witty play or Marx Brothers film – a little bit clever wordplay and a little bit slapstick. Perfection.
Another book with the fake relationship trope is WHEN A SCOT TIES THE KNOT by Tessa Dare. Like Julia Quinn and Claudia Dain, Tessa Dare plays with words as well as she plays with her characters. This book has one of my favorite variations on the “fake romance turned real” theme – when an invented husband, fiance, or lover turns up in the flesh – much to the bafflement of the person who invented the object of affection. In this case, Madeline Gracechurch invents Captain MacKenzie, writing to him as a way of venting and as a source of harmless fantasy – or so she thinks until a certain Captain Logan MacKenzie actually shows up. Logan has his own agenda but love blossoms as they are going through with the charade.
In SOMETHING ABOUT EMMALINE by Elizabeth Boyle, Alexander Denford, Baron Sedgwick creates an imaginary wife that is off in the country. With such a wife he protects himself from mothers trying to marry him to their daughters, but he also doesn’t have the demands that a real wife would make on him. Until one day he starts getting bills rung up by his “wife.” Emmaline doesn’t mean to destroy him, but rather borrow the aristocratic wife persona for a bit. This is one of my all-time favorite books. Emmaline bedevils Alexander as much as he tempts her. They discover, much to their surprise, how much natural chemistry they have. Yay!
I have two other favorite books about imaginary spouses that poof into existence in a delicious way – REINVENTING MISS BLUEBEARD by Minda Webber and SCOUNDREL by Debra Dier. I will preface this by saying that if you don’t like puns, you probably won’t enjoy REINVENTING MISS BLUEBEARD. I happen to enjoy puns and this book by Minda Webber is a hoot. In this mixed-up tale, Eve Bluebeard – yes, the daughter of that legendary Bluebeard – is a psychiatrist and struggling to be taken seriously by male academics and get funding for her asylum. She invented Dr. Adam Griffin to get the marriage-minded off her back and cloak herself in middle-class respectability. One day a Dr. Adam Griffin, proclaiming himself to be Eve’s husband, shows up at one of her academic dinner parties. Delicious. The banter is lightning-quick like something out of a 1930s movie. Adam turns out to be a pirate dug up by her father to woo Eve. Adam is the epitome of charm, but Eve is a tough nut to crack. Lots of laughs go along with the romantic shenanigans.
Last, but not least, are SCOUNDREL by Debra Dier as well as AT LAST COMES LOVE by Mary Balogh. In both SCOUNDREL and AT LAST COMES LOVE, the heroines are pushed in a corner in some way and find it easier to create a husband or fiance. SCOUNDREL is the first book in Debra Dier’s Heiresses series. In SCOUNDREL, Emily Maitland creates husband Major Sheridan Blake. She tells people she had eloped with him in order to allow the focus to be off her matrimonial prospects and onto her sisters. In walks the totally charming and frustrating (for Emily) Major Blake aka super spy Simon St. James. As much as she tries to get rid of Simon, passion erupts between them as they get to know each other better. This book is sure to elicit a few sighs as well as a tear or two, but it’s a fantastic story and an emotionally powerful romance.
An equally powerful story is AT LAST COMES LOVE by Mary Balogh. Mary Balogh may be my absolute favorite historical romance author. Her stories are always so well-written, with depth, romantic charm, and multidimensional flawed yet likable characters. This book is no exception. This is the third book in Mary Balogh’s Huxtable series, but the first book of hers I read, and I highly recommend it. Margaret Huxtable is known for being a great beauty but also highly sensible. As she’s been like a second mother to her siblings and watched two of her younger sisters get married, Margaret is feeling lonely. At a ball and experiencing a very weak moment, she literally stumbles into Duncan Pennethorne, Earl of Sheringford. While having a notorious reputation known to just everybody except Margaret, she accepts his charade in acting as her fiance in order to save face in front of two former beaus. This is by far one of the best “meet-cute” scenes I’ve ever read. Even though Duncan claims to be a little tipsy, the banter between him and this heroine is to die for, and the kind of thing I’d like more of in historical romances. There is a wealth of sexual tension and verbal dueling in this story and you fall for the hero in much the same way the heroine does. He ends up being a much better man than society at large assumes him to be. Bravo!
More Fake Relationship Historical Romance Novels to Enjoy:
AT LAST COMES LOVE by Mary Balogh
A SUMMER TO REMEMBER by Mary Balogh
SLIGHTLY SCANDALOUS by Mary Balogh
SOMETHING ABOUT EMMALINE by Elizabeth Boyle
A GOOD RAKE IS HARD TO FIND by Manda Collins
A PRINCE ON PAPER by Alyssa Cole *a modern-day royal romance that fits this trope!*
HOW TO DAZZLE A DUKE by Claudia Dain
WHEN A SCOT TIES THE KNOT by Tessa Dare
SCOUNDREL by Debra Dier
ONE KISS FROM YOU by Christina Dodd
DEVIL’S BRIDE by Stephanie Laurens
MY FAKE RAKE by Eva Leigh
DARING MISS DANVERS by Vivienne Lorret
THE ROGUE TO RUIN by Vivienne Lorret
THE PAID COMPANION by Amanda Quick
REINVENTING MISS BLUEBEARD by Minda Webber