Madelene Valmeyer has never felt welcome in her father’s house. The daughter of his first wife, she will be one of the richest heiresses in England when she turns twenty-five. But for now, Madelene is just a miserably shy girl, tormented mercilessly by her stepmother and three half-siblings. Nearly unable to function socially, Madelene certainly can’t see that Benedict Pelham, the artistic son of a marquis, is falling in love with her.
Benedict Pelham hates London society, blaming its endless seductions for the death of his brilliant first wife. But in quiet, beautiful Madelene, Benedict believes he’s finally found his chance to begin life again.
Madelene, though, is done being quiet. With the help of her friends and fellow wallflowers, she is preparing to transform from shy mouse to brilliant Miss. But social success has a high price—is Madelene prepared to pay with her heart?
Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, April 19, 2016
Time and Setting: Regency London
Genre: Historical Romance (novella)
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars
Review by Maria Almaguer
Madelene Valmeyer is an heiress living with ungrateful and selfish relatives who constantly guilt-trip her into giving them more money to pay off their trivial debts, much to the irritation of her long-suffering trustee. She’s a very reserved and shy young woman whose meekness sometimes borders on the pathetic. I found myself constantly wanting her to toughen up and be a big girl and stand up to her good-for-nothing family, like her good friend, the strong-willed bluestocking, Hélène. Madelene is more like a kicked puppy.
And I have to wonder about Benedict Pelham’s own motivation when he only seems to want to protect and save Madelene from her parasitic family. He somehow sees the attractive woman hiding inside the meek façade but honestly, I don’t really see how he could, given the extremely humble way that she presents herself. Perhaps their one enlightening conversation about the painting he creates of her in the first chapter at the gallery provides a tiny clue but before that, he only saw her spying on him when he was commissioned to paint another work at a mutual acquaintance’s house party. So how he made the leap from the timidity he sees to guessing at the genuine woman inside is sort of a mystery to me. But after the drama of Benedict’s tragic first marriage, Madelene’s submissiveness is exactly what attracts him in the first place.
Benedict is an artist and widower, whose first wife’s death causes great speculation and gossip in the ton. He is drawn to Madelene but fears he isn’t good enough for her because, well, he’s an artist, something that wasn’t exactly an acceptable occupation in Regency England.
Madelene and Benedict are a very quiet and understated couple so their passion isn’t very passionate. Their weaknesses – her lack of self confidence, his past demons – aren’t absorbing enough to merit the great conflict of why they cannot be together.
As in the previous novella, Madelene’s best friends Adele (The Bride Behind the Curtain) and Hélène (the next novella) support her and one another in their common quest to conquer London society by dressing well and entertaining the most important names in the aristocracy. Their unconventional chaperone, Deborah Sewell, a novelist (gasp!), continues to intrigue this reader with her secretive and colorful life as she guides and advises her young protégées. I hope Ms. Wilde writes her story in this Regency Makeover series, as she’s a fascinating character.
However, Ms. Wilde does write well – I very much enjoyed her provocative début, Lord of the Rakes – and her pacing is good, keeping the story moving along at a steady clip. This series reads like a serial in that it is presented in installments without a true resolved ending for each of the stories so far. That’s not a complaint, merely an observation. Ultimately, The Stepsister’s Triumph is disappointing, and I just didn’t find Madelene or Benedict very exciting. Likeable – yes. But also a trifle boring.