Review: Return of the Viscount by Gayle Callen
Reviewed by May
After her father’s death Cecilia Mallory is left to care for her brother (the new Earl), manage the vast estate, and is unable to access her funds for several more years – unless she marries and can be free of her guardian. Desperate for a solution, and unwilling to sacrifice her freedom or put her funds or fate into a man’s hands, she proposes to Sergeant Michael Blackthorne. He is a man she knows only through letters, a soldier who her father held in very high regard and whom she’s been corresponding with regularly.
Blackthorne went into the military as an enlisted man as a way to earn his keep and get his family back to prosperity through hard work instead of marrying an heiress as his father and grandfather before him did. The Viscount marries Cecilia because she sounds desperate and since he has no intention of marrying or returning to England, the match suits him fine. He feels it will be in line with his promise to her father to watch out for and help his children however he can.
Satisfied with the match, the pair continues on until an injury and return to England lands Blackthorne at his wife’s door. Both are in for a shock as she realizes he is not elderly but young and incredibly handsome – and he realizes his lady wife is an heiress, incredibly beautiful, and a woman who could have had her pick from any number of men.
She hadn’t wanted to marry, couldn’t risk being controlled by any of the men of her acquaintance. They’d all seemed so eager when they saw the riches of Apertan Hall- or when they’d admired her form rather than shown interest in any conversation. With Sergeant Blackthorne, she’d thought she was marrying an elderly compatriot of her father’s, one who would die sooner than later, to be blunt about it.
But, this… this healthy, intimidating, overpowering man upset every decision she’d made for herself.
I do love a good marriage of convenience turned love story, unfortunately this wasn’t a convincing one. The pace of this book is painfully slow, and while I really loved how the author shows this pair getting to know one another in truth and slowly developing a bond, I never felt it went past superficial, and I never felt satisfied that the pair was in love. Even when they finally consummate their marriage, it felt almost forced. Not like a pair of people falling passionately in love but rather a couple realizing it was time to live truly as man and wife. Indeed as I closed this book, I still thought it was a marriage of convenience.
Our heroine never wants to return to India and our hero is too proud to quit his enlisted soldier life and take up his responsibilities as a viscount. He won’t accept any money from her, won’t let her help him or build a life together – he must do it all on his own. I ask – at what cost? Will the heroine have to completely fold and follow him or chose a life alone? Why can she not contribute at all – especially since she has proven herself so useful running the entire estate for her brother the young earl? That the hero accepts how useful she is with her brother’s estate but will not let her (or her resources) help his estate bothered me. How is that a partnership, a true marriage?
This is not to say I did not like Michael and Cecilia – quite the opposite! At the start I was intrigued and interested and immediately invested in them both. Unfortunately I did not like where they headed as characters or as a couple. I was tremendously let down with the lack of true romance in this book. There were some physical scenes, some emotional ones, but nothing that really went deep or convinced me of this pairing – or why they’d be perfect for each other.
I did like how Michael offers to help with Cecilia’s brother, to try and push him towards maturity and acting in accordance to his station instead of like a spoiled little boy, and how Cecilia comes to realize perhaps coddling isn’t truly taking care of her brother as she seemed to believe it was. She makes all kinds of excuses for him and does all of the work for him- leaving him free to his folly. We learn throughout the book just how bad of a person her brother is, and I was really shocked and upset at the end when we learn of something truly heinous and how lightly it was taken by everyone. I questioned why it would be tossed in there as the big climax for this book and handled so carelessly.
One last complaint that I must mention, is that there is a scene where a fire is started with an oil lamp. Our hero grabs a carpet and goes to smother the flames (smart move!) but the heroine grabs water and throws water on the oil fire. Let me take a moment to give you a PSA: throwing water on an oil fire is a terrible idea. Don’t do it. I confirmed this with my official all things fire source (my fireman husband). Now perhaps the author envisioned the fire taking over the room and the heroine was throwing water somewhere far away/unrelated to the initial oil fire? I don’t know because the scene was such a jumbled mess
Overall, for a book that almost entirely takes place inside the heroine’s home, the characters and relationships felt painfully flat and under developed. Characters act out a needed – and not convincingly either. They stuck to their script, feeling more like bad actors than real people which really disappointed me since this book had such promise to start with. Not only did I feel like the twists failed, but I was really disappointed in all of the resolutions and story overall.