A while back I checked out historical romance novelist Sherry Thomas…and fell head over heels in love. The sheer wordsmithing talent of this woman, for whom English is apparently a second language, makes me feel about two inches tall (imagine me craning my head to stare up at her in awe). She writes primarily Victorians, circa 1880s to 1890s, and in my opinion does her best work with husband/wife couples who are estranged or in marriages of convenience. I love stories like this: two people essentially trapped in a relationship even though they don’t really know each other, finally getting to know each other and realizing they are each other’s lobsters. <3 !!
Not Quite A Husband goes right up there among my favorite romance novels ever. Heroine is a doctor (yeah, that’s right!), hero is a math genius and overall renaissance man. He is four years younger than her and has loved her since childhood. They get married after a whirlwind courtship but it all goes to crap followed by annulment, because of reasons. At the book’s start, she’s in rural India and he’s taken it upon himself to escort her home to England because her father is dying.
I found the beginning of the book difficult to get into — who were these prickly, angry, unsympathetic people? And I wasn’t sure the frequent flashbacks were going to work for me. (Turns out frequent flashbacks are a Sherry Thomas feature.) But as more of the heroine’s past gets revealed, the book just launches into the stratosphere: her wounded childhood, her complicated relationships with her younger sister and father (one scene in particular made me bawl), her fiercely locked-down emotions, her single-minded career ambitions, her total obliviousness to the boy who adored her for years and the man who still adores her, the fact that she is the one with all the angst and the hero has no manpain to speak of (he even admits that despite some complicated family stuff of his own, he’s had a fairly awesome life).
Also, bonus points for secondary characters who are interesting and well-realized in their own right but aren’t being launched into sequels and companion books (even though I’d love to read more of the sister). And for an epilogue which deliberately does not end in babies.
Two flaws of the book:
(1) There are scenes of sex initiated while one partner is sleeping (she does it to him in the present narrative, explicitly depicted, and he does it to her in the past narrative, implicitly depicted).
(2) It depicts white people drama against the backdrop of a rebellion in India. I personally didn’t have a problem with it as depicted in this book (but see my review for Meredith Duran) and in fact found it made for a refreshing plot structure because it results in the H/H declaring their mutual love and still having 100 or so pages left in which to address their actual relationship issues — which they do like total grown-ups — instead of blithely ending at the mutual love declarations like so many historical romance novels do. But I digress. Brown people = background, so fair warning.