Felix Rivendale, the Marquess of Wrenworth, is The Ideal Gentleman, a man all men want to be and all women want to possess. Felix knows very well his golden image is a hoax. But no one else suspects the truth, until Miss Louisa Cantwell comes along.
From their first meeting, Louisa has mistrusted his outward perfection. But even she could not have imagined that The Ideal Gentleman would propose—to make her his mistress.
Yet she cannot ignore the pleasure his touch ignites. Nor can she deny the pull Lord Wrenworth exerts upon her. But dare she get any closer to a man full of dark secrets, any one of which could devastate her?
Publisher and Release date: Berkley, November 2013
Time and Setting: Victorian England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Maria Almaguer
Exquisite, lovely, and thoroughly entertaining, this is the latest book by one of my favorite historical romance writers. I’m well aware that this book has been praised to the skies everywhere, but it is no surprise as Sherry Thomas has a way with language and feeling that leaves you breathless.
After witnessing his own parents’ failed marriage, Felix Rivendale vows never to give his heart to anyone. He is fully in control of himself, his life, and his relationships, never letting anyone get too close. Which is what made his realization that he could – and wanted to – love all the more exciting and fun to read. One of the best parts of the book is when he realizes that he needs to make Louisa happy and do something for her rather than to simply make her love him.
Sherry Thomas’ stories remind me a lot of the works of Edith Wharton, not just because they are set in the Victorian era but also because of their strong themes of propriety and the high (and often devastating) expectations of women. Louisa Cantwell’s precarious situation – needing to marry well to support herself and her family – and her anxiety and near-panic reminded me at times of Lily Bart from Wharton’s tragic The House of Mirth. Thankfully, unlike a Wharton novel, this is a romance so we are assured of a happy ending.
It is very clever how Louisa exposes Felix’s scheme and her skill at beating him at his own game. Felix’s shock at this realization is one of the best scenes in the book and when Louisa discovers she has this power over him it makes her feel desired and attractive. If she refuses to be his mistress, she reasons, then perhaps he’ll want her for more. And he does, of course.
Their erotic banter is playful, especially since it takes place in semi-public places like a carriage or at a musicale; Thomas’ words are stunning, succinct, and lovely, even when she’s talking dirty. Her stories have an undercurrent of erotica to them; in fact, her novella, The Bride of Larkspear, a story within a story in her gorgeous Fitzhugh trilogy, explored this aspect more fully. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of the buttoned-up proper Victorian world with sex talk. The sex scenes in the novel, while romantic, erotic, and sexy, are brief but intense.
Characters from her other novels are mentioned here. Lady Tremaine, for example, from her first book, Private Arrangements, is an important character appearing as Felix’s former lover and friend. If you read her books in order, finding these connections is a treat.
I also like discerning the meaning of titles and this one seems to imply that Felix is “The Ideal Gentleman,” rich, titled, and handsome, and Louisa is lucky to be singled out by him. In fact, it is he who is just as lucky as she.
Louisa is kind of an enigma, a very smart young woman determined to make a good match for the sake of her family yet drawn to the magnetic Lord Wrenworth and his inappropriate invitation. She dares to hope she might have security as well as passion. He in turn is captivated by her directness, wittiness, and a willingness for sexual exploration that matches his own.
Both Louisa and Felix are very much alike; both distrust the other but both wish to be cared for and loved. Both love each other deeply yet are afraid to let the other too close to their hearts; in fact the main way they express their love is in bed. Later, when Felix recognizes that he wants to do something for her, he expresses it by his careful attentions to her family. She is afraid of rejection and he is afraid to give her his full heart because she might see him as less than his carefully crafted image. He is vulnerable and desperately wants to be loved but feels a need to exert power over her – to alternately hurt and desire.
Their shared love of astronomy is charming and sweet; they grow closer through their passion for the hobby and Thomas’ descriptions of constellations and significant works in the field are sometimes mind-boggling to read, but nonetheless impressive and expressive of two very intelligent people. Furthermore, the scenes in the schoolroom, where he instructs her in higher mathematics so that she can understand, appreciate, and calculate astronomy better, are some of the sexiest writing I’ve ever read.
A lush, romantic, and smart romance, this story is a feast for the senses.