Marrying Winterbourne is the second book in the current Lisa Kleypas historical romance Ravenel series, and, while it is better than its predecessor, Cold-Hearted Rake, it still not up to the standard of her classics or even her stronger books. Spending insufficient time with the love story, though plenty with the smolder, it started with a wallflower and a rake, Kleypas’s forte, and swiftly landed in Big Misunderstanding territory – which experienced romance readers will tell you means the leads’ problems could be solved with one honest conversation.
Possessing several Kleypas aspects I adore, this is what Marrying Winterbourne has going for it: Rhys Winterbourne is a gorgeous, self-made man, a sardonic and magnificently self-possessed hero who calls the heroine sweetheart in that Kleypas way, and in Welsh no less, and is poleaxed by his adoration of his beloved. So far, so good. Lady Helen Ravenel is a profoundly shy, seemingly delicate woman with a backbone of steel and the willingness to step outside of herself to pursue what she wants. Excellent! Unfortunately, all of that is taken care of by Chapter Two when Rhys and Helen reach an understanding and then spend the rest of the novel trying to get to the altar. The challenge was that the stumbling blocks took precedence over the relationship building. The problem was that some elements Kleypas includes are, at best, dated and diminished the reading experience for me.
On more than one occasion, Rhys manhandles Helen.
“Rhys grasped her chin and compelled her to look at him.”
“She hated the way he guided her with his hand clasped on the back of her neck, as if she were a helpless kitten being carried by the scruff.”
“Rhys pushed from the desk and reached her with stunning quickness, caging her body with his and slamming the sides of his fists against the wall.”
Caging a woman with his body is something Rhys did to the heroine of Cold-Hearted Rake as well, though then he was also sexually aggressive. His character needed some rehabilitation and while he shows remorse, apologises to the woman he threatened, and Kleypas drops a building on him early-ish in the book, his aggressive behavior toward Helen made me uncomfortable. Is he abusing Helen? Perish the thought. Does it represent the heightened reality often found in books of this genre? I don’t care. Is he asserting physical dominance potentially consistent with the Victorian era? Perhaps, but Marrying Winterbourne is a romance novel, not a historical document and I don’t appreciate these rough elements. Were I the woman involved, especially in the last example, I have every faith I would burst into terrified tears. In the justifiably beloved Kleypas classic The Devil in Winter, the hero is horrified when he moves too quickly and the heroine flinches. In Marrying Winterbourne, the hero takes advantage of his superior size to intimidate Helen and control her movements. If it were ever properly addressed, I could overlook it, but since I doubt Kleypas is going to drop another building on Rhys in the next book in the series, The Devil in Spring (which I will still buy), Marrying Winterbourne is going in my disappointment pile.
A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue, with recommendations (two classics and one of my personal favourites), can be found here.