Ever since her husband’s sudden and tragic death, Lady Penelope Bridgeman has committed herself to studying the maladies of the mind, particularly the trauma of soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars. It is this expertise that brings the Marquess of Bromwich’s family to her door.
Gabriel Devereaux’s unexpected and unpredictable episodes are unlike any Penelope has studied. The once proud soldier has been left shaken and withdrawn, but Penelope manages to build a fragile trust between them. Strangely, Gabriel seems completely lucid when not in the grips of his mania, and during the calm bouts between, she is surprised by how much she is drawn to him.
Despite his own growing feelings, Gabriel knows that he is fit for no one and is determined to keep Penelope away from his descent into madness. But even though she knows firsthand the folly of loving a broken man, Penelope cannot stop herself from trying to save him, no matter the cost.
Publisher and Release Date: April 2nd 2013 by Signet Eclipse
Time and Setting: England, 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Lady Wesley
Sweet Madness is the third in Heather Snow’s Veiled Seduction series and for my money the best. The heroines are the true stars in each of these stories. In Sweet Enemy, she’s a bluestocking chemist who has no interest in marriage. In Sweet Deception, she’s a mathematical savant trying to use her skills to solve a series of murders.
In this book, Lady Penelope is neither a bluestocking nor a genius. Rather, she’s a society miss (whom we met in the first book as the heroine’s cousin) whose husband died six months after their wedding. With our 21st century knowledge, we quickly can see that he was bipolar, but in 1817 that disease was unknown. All that society saw was a handsome, charming, vibrant, energetic young man enjoying life, but Pen saw him during the dark times and blames herself for his suicide.
For two years she has been withdrawn from society and is still dressing in deep mourning attire. During that time, however, she has come to know several veterans of the Napoleonic wars who suffered from what then was called “battle fatigue.” At the hospital set up by her cousin’s husband, she has worked to help these men and has met with some success. Her therapy is based on a combination of her common sense, her deeply empathetic personality, and her study of the British “associationist” school of thinking (an early, simplistic version of today’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).
Gabriel Devereaux, her late husband’s cousin, is confined in a luxurious but nonetheless brutal asylum for the insane. His mother asks Pen to discover whether she can help him, but most of Pen’s efforts are stymied by the asylum’s starchy director. When Pen gets him away from the asylum to her cousin’s country estate, her patient, dedicated work begins to help him deal with some of his traumatic war experiences. Moreover, he has no more of the sudden, violent episodes that put him in the asylum in the first place.
During their weeks together, Pen and Gabriel’s relationship becomes one of deep trust and genuine affection. Actually, for several years Gabriel has been carrying a torch for Pen, and she begins to wonder if she can perhaps love again, even though this man clearly has psychological problems. Gabriel realizes that Pen needs rescuing from her past as much as he does, so he tries to help her as she is helping him. It’s lovely to watch this story slowly unfold on the page, but the good times cannot last.
Gabriel’s younger brother and his grasping wife take steps to have Gabriel officially declared non compos mentis, and he and Pen must travel to London for the dramatic showdown. At this point the ending seemed rushed to me, but perhaps that’s because I had begun to suspect what could be behind Gabriel’s episodes. I didn’t understand it all, though, and to me the last chapter felt like the closing scene in “Murder She Wrote” where Jessica Fletcher explains how she solved the crime.
Heather Snow always includes plenty of well-researched history in her stories, and here we learn about the horrible plight of war veterans, their widows, and their children, who were utterly without any support system after the Napoleonic wars ended.
But ultimately, this is a romantic, sometimes sad, but ultimately joyful story of two people working together to overcome obstacles – both external and those of their own making. I highly recommend Sweet Madness as well as its two predecessors. Although there is some overlap in characters among these three books, they need not be read in order.