How the Marquess Was Won

Image of How the Marquess Was Won: Pennyroyal Green Series
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
December 27, 2011
Publisher/Imprint: 
Avon
Pages: 
384
Reviewed by: 

“. . . it would be easy for a writer as talented as Julie Anne Long to set up her story and then cruise through to the inevitable happy-ever-after ending. What truly sends this novel in to best-of territory is the fact that she doesn’t. Ms. Long doesn’t rest on the Cinderella motif, but uses it rather as a background for a strong, character-driven novel wherein conversation, witticisms, and true mutual appreciation become the central focus—rather than a disparity of situation and rescue. . . . I loved this novel from the first page to the last, and can offer nothing but unreserved recommendations for any reader who loves historical romance. Or romance. Or good stories. Or really, reading.”

It’s often the game-changers that reap the accolades, but sometimes a novel comes along that follows the rules and conventions so beautifully, that readers are reminded why they love this genre in the first place. How the Marquess Was Won is such a novel.

Phoebe has an undeniable, but mostly secret—as keeping with her role as a respectable teacher at a school for girls—obsession with society columns in the broadsheets. So naturally she knows all about Julian, Marquess Dryden—or Lord Ice, as he’s more colloquially known. As the town trendsetter, Julian makes fashion everywhere he goes, and it is well known that he accepts only the best in everything: brandy, cravats, boots, horses, and, naturally, women.

As a respectable woman far removed from the glittering ballrooms of society, Phoebe never expects to have anything to do with any of the people in the ’sheets, barring, of course, her ravenous reading of their exploits. But fate steps in when an old student writes and requests a visit from Phoebe as a friend and paid companion. Lisbeth is beautiful, rich, and—unbeknownst to her—the final piece in a broken puzzle the Marquess has been rebuilding since his rise to the title.

But a chance encounter with the straightforward and too-inconsequential-to-worry-about-demure Phoebe changes his mind on what he really wants in a woman. Yet he’s worked too hard to rebuild his heritage to throw it away on a whim. And Phoebe has plans to go to Africa.

The romantic allure of the rags-to-riches, Cinderella story is undeniable, particularly if said Cinderella is a loveable, kind character (as Phoebe is) stacked up against the stronger, but mean-spirited rival (also as Phoebe is). This plot device immediately manipulates the reader to the main character’s side; keeping the reader on-side is easy enough as long as the author maintains a balance and doesn’t descend into caricature.

So it would be easy for a writer as talented as Julie Anne Long to set up her story and then cruise through to the inevitable happy-ever-after ending. What truly sends this novel in to best-of territory is the fact that she doesn’t. Ms. Long doesn’t rest on the Cinderella motif, but uses it rather as a background for a strong, character-driven novel wherein conversation, witticisms, and true mutual appreciation become the central focus—rather than a disparity of situation and rescue.

Phoebe’s place in society is uneasy—she is both above and below the Marquess’s notice. As a respectable woman, gainfully employed, she is not part of the deserving poor who might attract his attention in a charitable capacity, and thus remains above his notice. As a respectable woman, gainfully employed, she will never have entrée to the society that the Marquess occupies, and thus remains under his radar. In fact, the Marquess wouldn’t have noticed her apart from the extraordinary circumstances and coincidences that end up placing her right under his nose.

Phoebe is also well aware of her position, and rather than being cowed by it, she embraces the singular opportunity to practice her good manners, but not let societal dictates smooth away her personality. This is where Julian’s interest is captured—he’s known many women, but none have been open and honest with him. None have ever dared to tease or banter. The cost of displeasing him—or indeed being seen as unwomanly—are too high. Phoebe doesn’t have to worry about any of that, having secured a future of her own making that does not rely on Lord Ice’s approval.

On the other hand, Julian, with all the appearance of being free and easy, has been bound by the society he leads, and by his own quest for vengeance. Meeting Phoebe and interacting with another human who is genuinely interested in interacting with him with no thought of gain or social maneuevring opens his eyes to the narrow space he has been occupying, and the possibilities outside of that space.

Watching the Marquess fall in love—and his actions that betray that depth of feeling before he recognizes it—is among my favorite scenes in this novel, particularly society’s reaction (plus a bit with a cat). Naturally he fights his emotions with every weapon in his arsenal, including an indecent proposal, but the downhill slide starts early, and is a delight for the reader to follow.

In the interest of balance, I always try and include what may not work quite as well in a novel, but I admit to being stymied. I loved this novel from the first page to the last, and can offer nothing but unreserved recommendations for any reader who loves historical romance. Or romance. Or good stories. Or really, reading.