This is posted as part of Keishon’s TBR Day challenge, which is aimed at encouraging us readers with the towering TBR piles (you know who you are) to start tackling the books that have been languishing in there for eons.
Book: “The Diabolical Baron” (note that this is published with another story in “Dangerous to Know” – the other one is a novella “Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know”, which I’m not reviewing here)
Author: Mary Jo Putney
Why did I buy this book? Mary Jo Putney was one of the first historical romance authors I stumbled across. I loved her Fallen Angels series (not so much her newer paranormal romances, so I cheered when i heard she was moving back to straight historical romances). Anyway, I picked up this copy for old times’ sake when I spotted it on the sales rack (and yes, the cover played a part).
Why did it sit in my TBR pile for so long? Because I thought I had already read it! I bought this book mainly for the novella, thinking that the blurb for “The Diabolical Baron” sounded familiar. But when I picked up the book a couple of nights ago and started skimming through the main story, I thought “hey, this doesn’t feel familiar”…
What is it about? It’s a Regency-set romance, and starts off with Jason Kincaid, nicknamed the Diabolical Baron, picking the name of his bride out of a hat. He’s reached the age when he really should get married and he doesn’t quite care who he actually marries as long as she’s suitable. So he ends up with Caroline Hanscombe, a young girl who meets all his criteria – well-bred, reasonably good-looking, etc, etc. The only thing Jason hasn’t realised – and won’t until he invites them to his house – is that Caroline’s widowed aunt and chaperone, Jessica, was his first love. Oh, and there’s Captain Richard Dalton, who at first sight appears completely unrelated to the main storyline, but ends up playing a major role in the story.
So what did I think about it? “The Diabolical Baron” is not an unpredictable read – you pretty much figure out the entire storyline and who ends up with who after the first couple of chapters. Having said that, the characters and their interactions were enough to keep me flipping the pages.
I liked Jessica – she was a refreshingly strong older heroine. This isn’t one of the stories where the heroine sits around mourning the loss of her first love – instead, Jessica married someone else and had a good marriage. She’s a typical Putney military wife heroine – an independent and strong-minded woman, following the drum with her husband. I could see the attraction between herself and Jason, and their relationship was definitely the main thing that held my interest in this book. There is also a secondary romance, which was sweet – actually, some of the scenes with Caroline and her music were lovely.
Secondary characters? Well, you have the standard outspoken aunt with a heart of gold, a best friend who works at being a dandy, the ambitious stepmama, etc, etc. The most interesting character is Reggie Davenport, who is cast in the role of the heir-apparent to the abandoned Wargrave estate. A gambler, a drunk, and a bit of a letch, he actually has some of the best lines in the book. He’s attractive because you get the feeling he’s not completely lost beyond all hope, and I’m pretty sure MJP redeemed him in a later book (ETA: have checked, and yes, he is the hero in “The Rake”). The ambiguity in most characters is something I liked about this book – for instance, Caroline’s stepmother, while being wildly ambitious and not really caring about her stepdaughter, also has a strong honest streak.
What I didn’t like was the ending – the reason for Jason and Jessica’s original breakup really frustrated me. It just felt like too trivial a reason for something that completely changed their lives. And the last third of the book felt padded out and slightly lazy – a lot of assumptions by all the four main characters that typified the big MIS being used as a plot device.
My conclusion? It’s not one of Ms Putney’s best books – it’s one of her earlier ones and it shows. It’s interesting because you can see hints of her later style peeking out, but as it is, it feels clumsy in places. I couldn’t help but think it would have been a much better book if she had written it now. I’m sort of torn between a B and a C for my grade – for sentimental reasons let’s call it B-.