After having some rather befuddling historical romance-themed dreams last night (Fever dreams? I am a bit ill.) I woke up absolutely needing to read a historical romance. And a good one. That's the thing with so many of these period romances; they're bad. Luckily, I knew of two titles out that I hadn't read yet from two of my favorite HR authors: Four Nights With the Duke by Eloisa James, and Once Upon a Marquess from the pen (keyboard?) of Courtney Milan. I adored Milan's works when I read them before, but I know James' work better, since there's so much more of it to go to, so I decided to start with Four Nights, also because I liked the one that came before it, Three Weeks With Lady X, so very much. This wasn't Three Weeks, and while I devoured it, I didn't like it as much as I did Three Weeks. Here's why.
I like a few things in my historical romances: a smart heroine who can be strong without necessarily needing to literally kick butt, some witty banter, chemistry between the two leads, and something to lighten up anything that gets a little too heavy. While I think most of James' work checks off these boxes, I found Four Nights a little lacking in these respects. This is mainly because of the couple. The hero is, of course, Vander, Duke of Pindar, who we met in Three Weeks when he courted India. India's now happily married to Vander's best friend, and Vander himself is quite happy to have escaped marriage because he's come to the conclusion it's not for him. This has a great deal to do with his parents' marriage, which wasn't exactly happy. In fact, his father spent most of Vander's life locked up in a mental institution, while Vander's mother swanned about having an affair with the landowner next door...
...who happens to be our heroine, Mia's, father. Oh. That is awkward, isn't it? Also awkward is that Mia has been pretty much in love with Vander since she was fifteen and wrote him a rather ridiculous love poem, and then had the unfortunate experience of having him get a hold of it and hearing him make fun of it with his friend and someone who might be best described as a frenemy. The encounter ended with Mia confronting Vander and saying she'd never marry him, not even if he was the last man on earth. Which makes it extra awkward when, following the deaths of her father and brother, she finds out that she needs to marry in order to get custody of her nephew, Charles Wallace, so that his maternal uncle can't squander his estate away. Mia's proper fiance jilted her, and now she's left scrabbling for a husband before a year--a period of time specified in her brother's will--is up. Luckily, she has a rather incriminating letter written by Vander's father. She plans to use it to blackmail him into marrying her.
Vander and Mia had chemistry. I can't say they didn't; as always, James can write a pretty good love scene. But the other aspects that I enjoy in historical romances were somewhat missing. Mia's smart and can do the whole "witty banter" bit, if she's not too embarrassed, but Vander himself has trouble communicating in general, and so banter is largely missing here; instead, he spends his time pretty much insulting Mia when he intends to compliment her. There's also no secondary love story going on here, like there is in many of James' works, which meant there weren't really any light moments to bring up the heavier parts of the book. And there are some heavy parts--the details of Vanders' parents relationship, the long struggle, both in Mia's own mind and between herself and Vander, for Vander to respect Mia... This was missing a lot of the light-heartedness I enjoy in James' books, and that dragged it down somewhat for me. I'm also not convinced of Vander and Mia as a couple, despite their sexy kisses. Something about their relationship just didn't ring true for me. I was never really convinced that they did respect each other, and that's a major downfall to any relationship, even a fictitious one. Vander was also extremely possessive of Mia, edging on too much so; James tries to justify it as that's just how he expresses his emotions, but really, it seems like that's something he would seriously have to work on!
However, this book did have high points. Vander's uncle is an utter delight, Charles Wallace is adorable, Mia's notes on her in-progress novel are quite amusing, and there are several references to Julia Quinn and (once) to Lisa Kleypas. Quinn and Kleypas, under different names but ones that are obviously in reference to them, make cameos as other authors that Mia mentions. Since James, Quinn, and Kleypas are pretty much my holy trinity of historical romance writers, so I got quite a bit of enjoyment out of these references, minor as they were. I still liked James' writing overall, I just felt like the relationship, and the book as a whole, didn't come together quite as well as some of her other works did. I'm still greatly looking forward to reading her other titles that I haven't picked up yet, though; not every book can be a hit, but James does have more hits than most, and I have high hopes for her next book!
Oh, and this fulfills my Popsugar 2016 Reading Challenge category for "A book you can finish in a day." Easy as pie!
3 stars out of 5.