I would have loved to rate this HRN five stars, because I liked it and I believe the premises for a riveting romance were there. Yet, despite the great potential provided by the interesting main characters and their issues, the first half of the book falls short of all the very things that make a romance novel appealing: the romantic tension is lacking, the characters too tame. At some point the storyline is heavily loaded with historical references and although I appreciate a certain accuracy and consistency in my readings, the "historical element" with all those details about politics and elections were just too much for my "romance-reader" frame of mind.
Luckily, halfway into the novel something clicks in the right way and the storyline stirs in the right direction, giving depth and intensity to a love story that would have been otherwise very shallow. The second half of the book definitely deserves five stars and redeems all the shortcomings of the first part: the steamy love scenes are emotionally charged and extremely sweet. What started as an arranged marriage between two people who loathed each other turns slowly but relentlessly into a heavenly love-match.
Minerva Montrose is a young and pretty debutante at her first season, a typical English rose with an unusual interest in politics. Her highest ambition, in fact, is to marry a young and brilliant politician and help him advance in his parliamentarian career. And instead she gets involved in a scandal that will force her to accept the marriage proposal of a dissolute (and extremely handsome) marquess she utterly detests, Lord Blakeney. The feelings of dislike are mutual, at least in the beginning.
Although it wouldn't be fair to judge a book from the first one hundred pages, at an early stage the storyline doesn't captivate me, emotional depth is lacking and h/h are rather shallow. But don't worry, things will totally change. The readers' patience will be rewarded. An interesting as well as original twist will stir great emotion and sympathy towards our characters, especially the male hero: from this moment on the romantic tension will be much more palpable, rather sizzling and heartwarming.
Lord Blakeney (a soon to be duke) has a well-guarded secret: he is dyslexic, a condition not recognized or treated at that time. He is barely literate, he is unable to read and he can hardly write. His inadequacy makes it impossible for him to engage in any of the educated and elevated activities (involvement in politics or discussions about literature, knowledge of dead languages or fluency in French and German) a man of his station should be able to perform. In order to hide his inability, he spends his young and adult years building the reputation of a lazy, shallow and impertinent aristocratic. He rather and successfully engages in sports, outdoor activities or less intellectual tasks such as the running of his father's estate. In the eyes of society (and what hurts him the most, in the eyes of his wife Minerva) he has only good looks and no brain.
His dyslexia causes major trust and self-confidence issues and prevents him from showing his real self (he's not just a pretty face, Blake is a good, pleasant and practical man). His sense of being inferior holds him from establishing deep and confident relations with people, especially with Minerva who on the contrary is highly educated and extremely bright. Despite his lacks, Blake emerges as a very human and endearing character, certainly not fluent and articulate, but extremely sweet and capable of true and deep feelings . Even Minerva, initially all ambition and superficiality (due also to her very young age, she is barely twenty), will redeem herself showing a more vulnerable and loving aspect of her headstrong personality. She will understand her husband's condition, support him in his effort to fill his father's shoes as a duke and a political leader, and get to love him for what he is, with passion and pride.
The second half of the book definitely unfolds in a much more romantic and delightfully sexy way.