Review: The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn (2017)

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My Rating: 3 stars                                          Read: 3/24/2017

Blurb:

While you were sleeping…

With her brother Thomas injured on the battlefront in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia Harcourt has two unbearable choices: move in with a maiden aunt or marry a scheming cousin. Instead, she chooses option three and travels across the Atlantic, determined to nurse her brother back to health. But after a week of searching, she finds not her brother but his best friend, the handsome officer Edward Rokesby. He’s unconscious and in desperate need of her care, and Cecilia vows that she will save this soldier’s life, even if staying by his side means telling one little lie…

I told everyone I was your wife

When Edward comes to, he’s more than a little confused. The blow to his head knocked out six months of his memory, but surely he would recall getting married. He knows who Cecilia Harcourt is—even if he does not recall her face—and with everyone calling her his wife, he decides it must be true, even though he’d always assumed he’d marry his neighbor back in England.

If only it were true…

Cecilia risks her entire future by giving herself—completely—to the man she loves. But when the truth comes out, Edward may have a few surprises of his own for the new Mrs. Rokesby.

My Review:

I enjoy a good regency romance now and then, particularly when the dialogue is sharp and witty, and there’s some nice humor in the mix. A few of my favorite regency authors are Tessa Dare, Georgette Heyer, Lisa Kleypas, and Eloisa James. I have not read Julia Quinn before.

This story is a bit unusual in that it takes place in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. The British occupy New York Town and the heroine, Cecilia, travels there to find her brother, a British soldier, after her father dies and her odious cousin tries to press her into marriage.

I enjoyed the unusual setting of a very early NYC and I learned a few things too. For example, I never realized that the name “Harlem” comes from  early Dutch settlers (named after Haarlem in the Netherlands). I like being taken to new places/times in fiction. And it was interesting to read a regency that didn’t take place in the usual English setting.

The story goes that Cecilia, a British country miss, corresponded with her brother Thomas regularly while he was in the military, and he shared his letters with his friend, Edward Rokesby, an earl’s son. Edward began adding little notes to Thomas’s replies, and Cecilia began adding paragraphs addressed to Edward. Thomas also has a miniature of Cecilia that Edward likes to stare at when he thinks Thomas isn’t looking. So the H and h do have some history, even though they’ve never met in person.

When Edward wakes up in hospital with a head injury, he finds the real life Cecilia at his bedside, and everyone is calling her “Mrs. Rokesby”. He buys into her story that they married. He can’t remember the past three months of his life and surely, sweet Cecilia wouldn’t lie about something like that (Edward, being very honored, can’t even imagine such a thing).  Besides, he recalled he’d developed a tendre for her due to her letters.

This sounds like a charming set-up for a story. However, to be honest, as this lie of Cecilia’s dragged on and on, I had a hard time with it. Yes, she lies about being Edward’s wife initially to get into the hospital to help care for him, since her brother is missing in action and she knows no one else in New York Town. However, once he’s awake and they take up residence in a nearby hotel, the fiction becomes quite ridiculous and, frankly, inexcusable on her part.

Edwards gives Cecilia plenty of opportunities to tell him, even to “annul” the marriage since he can guess it was never consummated. But Cecilia acts like an indecisive ninny and ignores all these opportunities to come clean. Her reasons for doing so did not ring true given how honorable Edward was. He would not have hurt her if she revealed the truth, and he would have helped her look for her brother anyway, especially since Thomas was also his dear friend. Obviously, the true reason the lie is not revealed is because it’s the main hook of the story, and the author wanted to drag it out. But a set-up involving a lie like this is tricky territory and unfortunately, in this case, the author failed to make me buy the reasons for the continued lying and, honestly, betrayal, and therefore Cecilia ends up looking very bad indeed. Let’s just say in terms of strength, honor, and level-headed thinking, she is no Elizabeth Bennet.

I also found the characters a bit flat. Edward is honorable and upright, but not very fleshed out. Cecilia is described as very beautiful, of course, but Edward is apparently devoted to her because she’s “clever”, only this is rarely shown in her dialog and certainly not in her actions. She is supposed to be strong (according to Edward), because she came to New York in search of her brother, but her lying and waffling made it difficult to see her as a strong person. I felt her characterization was very muddled and inconsistent.

If you can ignore those issues, the intent of this plot line is a “he thinks we’re married but we’re really not” sexual imbroglio in which the young virgin miss is ensconced in a hotel room with her fake husband and sexy times ensue. This is the aspect of the story that most readers will enjoy, and it was fun enough only I personally found it a bit difficult to get immersed in it when I just wanted to smack the heroine all the time and felt sorry for Edward having his trust so abused.

Overall, this was an interesting regency because of the setting, and the story kept me reading to the end. If you are less picky about realism or truthfulness in your heroines, you may well enjoy this romp more than I did.

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