The Chick: Elissande Edgerton. Desperate to free herself and her aunt from under the thumb of her tyrannical, abusive uncle, Elissande is willing to go to any lengths to escape - even if it means trapping the stupidest man in the world into marriage.The Rub: Her new husband is not entirely pleased about being trapped - and just might be a whole lot smarter than he lets on.
Dream Casting: Keeley Hawes.
The Dude: Spencer "Penny" Stuart, Lord Vere. Working as a covert agent for the crown, he's cultivated the persona of a lovable buffoon in order to divert suspicion while he investigates crimes.The Rub: When he finds himself trapped into marriage by a scheming, ambitious chit, his adorable-idiot disguise becomes that much harder to maintain, particularly when he starts falling for his little gold-digger.Dream Casting: Dan Stevens.
Now up on Tumblr! (new format - feel free to leave me feedback either here in the comments or on Tumblr),
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Flood of Rats
1 Love At First Sight Romance
1 Secondary Romance (between previous Sherry Thomas characters!)
1 Eeeeevil Uncle
1 Surprise! Dad
1 Forced Compromisation
3 Paintings of Narrative Significance
1 SexyTimes Painting
1 Drunk Recitation of the Song of Songs
The Word: I didn't start out as a superfan of Sherry Thomas. I appreciated Private Arrangements more than I liked it (although I've been intending to reread it for a while now), but Not Quite a Husband absolutely blew me away and rightfully earned its author the coveted RITA award. So I was pretty excited to read His At Night - especially once I learned more about the hero.
Everyone in London believes the Marquess of Vere is an idiot - a friendly, well-liked, open-hearted idiot, but not someone you'd trust with your plants when you went on vacation, even if they were plastic. Formerly a genius, Vere supposedly sustained a head injury after a fall from his horse and he's never been the same since.
But that's only what he wants everyone to believe (including his own brother Freddy, last seen wooing the wrong heroine in Private Arrangements). In truth, he's a covert agent who cleans up messy situations with panache and discretion, using his bumbling-fool-image to wrangle his way into and out of delicate situations with no one the wiser. His latest mission is to finagle a way into the house of Edmund Douglas, a diamond mine owner suspected of extortion - and Vere hopes to do this by manipulating the man's niece, Elissande.
To the outside world, Elissande Edgerton appears to be only the most dutiful and gracious of nieces. However, in truth, her uncle is a calculating, manipulative and emotionally abusive monster who has made life a living hell for the women living under his roof. Elissande would have run away long ago, had she not stayed to protect her laudanum-addicted aunt from weathering the brunt of Edmund's venom. When her uncle leaves on a business trip, she sees it as an opportunity to look for ways to escape and take her aunt with her.
Opportunity knocks in the form of Lord Vere and a host of his friends, begging for shelter after their houseparty on a neighbouring estate was disrupted by (and I'm not exaggerating) a flood of rats. Elissande finally sees a way to escape from her uncle's clutches: marriage. Vere and Elissande take immediately to each other - and I mean immediately - and it is intensely amusing to read. It takes a rare author to make me totally buy a Love At First Sight romance but Sherry Thomas manages it with style.
There's only one problem - Vere, despite being perfectly smitten with Elissande, is working a case, which means he still has to pretend that he fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down. And to the world-weary Elissande, getting herself and her aunt safely out of her uncle's reach means snagging a husband smart enough to protect her, so she decides to seduce and/or compromise Vere's friendly brother Freddy.
Both Vere and Elissande's plans go awry when she ends up compromising herself with him instead, necessitating their hasty (and definitely not appreciated on Vere's part) marriage. However, Vere still needs to keep up his facade and Elissande's uncle is nowhere near out of the picture yet.
The rest of the novel is odd, and while it's handled well, it's not quite on the same level as Not Quite a Husband. The biggest obstacle is, of course, Vere's dropped-on-his-head disguise. He maintains it for the greater part of the novel, and while he lets it down little by little around Elissande, most of the romantic development occurs while Elissande is still at least somewhat convinced that Vere's not quite right in the head, and I'm not sure what to think about that. I kept experiencing a little niggle of uncertainty in the back of my mind when reading Elissande and Vere's interactions for the greater part of the novel.
Character-wise, the novel is right up there with Not Quite a Husband, and this time we actually have some stellar humour that would put Julia Quinn to shame. When Vere acts stupid, he acts really, really stupid, with a dedication to his work that will make you laugh out loud while reading the novel on the subway. Yet at the same time, there's a dark element to his character as well as Elissande's and the mystery revolving around Edmund Edgerton takes some decidedly twisted turns.
That being said, the romance doesn't quite click as well as in Not Quite a Husband - again, some of the characters' motivations didn't seem to fit, and I couldn't entirely buy how the relationship developed to such a point while at least one of the protagonists was hiding behind a clever disguise. However, His At Night still succeeds at being vastly entertaining, charming, and witty.