For every new historical romance author discovery, such as Juliana Gray, there is a little pile of disappointment at my bedside. So while waiting for the new Julie Anne Long, I have re-read the Hathaway series by Lisa Kleypas. If Courtney Milan is the reigning romance queen, she inherited the crown from Kleypas when she abdicated the historical genre.
The five Hathaway siblings, Leo, Amelia, Win, Poppy, and Beatrix, were raised in an eccentric academic family, happy in their seclusion when a series of events changed their lives: their father died, their mother followed him, Leo’s beloved fiancée succumbed to scarlet fever, Leo and Win almost did as well, and then Leo inherited a peerage forcing a change in circumstances and location. They are still recovering from these events when the first book opens. Mine till Midnight does the heavy lifting setting up the Hathaway series and the subsequent novels allow for frequent visits with the siblings. Kleypas also brings in most of the couples from the Wallflowers series for visits although, sadly, not nearly enough Simon and Annabelle Hunt, and, apparently, Sebastian and Evie St. Vincent are incapable to speaking to each other. Anywho, I enjoy character reincorporation beyond the canny marketing it represents. Kleypas is very good at giving the cameos just enough detail to get a sense of where the couples are now.
Mine till Midnight – Amelia Hathaway and Cam Rohan – Very good.
Of all the romances I have read, and there have been a lot, Mine till Midnight is one of the very few which had a moment so sincerely romantic that I had to pause, fan my face, and collect myself. I just love the heroine. Amelia Hathaway is one of my all-time favourites. Sensible and stalwart, she has been holding the pieces of her family together by strength of will alone. When a charming and unusual man enters her life, giving her support and a much needed chance to unclench, if only in private, Amelia is swept off her feet before she really knows what has happened.
Mine till Midnight is a strong starting point for the series. Somewhat unfortunately, in addition to a suddenly surprisingly Machiavellian villain, it also has what seems to me an absolutely pointless ghost story subplot that crescendos towards the end. Moreover, the hero, Cam Rohan, is of Romany (gypsy) descent, as is the hero of the next book, Seduce Me at Sunrise. While I appreciated the effort to bring a person of colour (for the times) into a historical romance, I grew quickly tired of what I think of as “the Romany bullshit”: fetishized exoticism, plus “gypsy” medical knowledge that was implausible for someone who has been isolated from his own culture since he was 10 years old.
Seduce Me at Sunrise – Win Hathaway and Merripen – Weakest of the series.
Seduce Me at Sunrise is a lot like Wuthering Heights, but with a happy ending, make of that what you will. Another Romany hero, Merripen is an intense, brooding hulk who has lived with the Hathaways for many years. The love of his life, Win Hathaway, has been an invalid since her bout of scarlet fever. Sent to France to recover, she comes back in full health to make good on the promise of their years of mutual longing. Merripen fights valiantly and seemingly endlessly against his attraction to her. His objections to the match are twofold: first, he feels himself unworthy of Win as the result of childhood trauma; second, he is convinced that her health is too fragile for a marital relationship. Win disagrees with him on both counts and tries to convince him before surrendering to his intractability. Merripen is guilty of some major comeheregoaway. He is also almost completely humourless, and while Kleypas plays this well, there was too much sturm and drang for me.
Tempt Me at Twilight – Poppy Hathaway and Harry Rutledge – Great. Rawr.
Despite having already reviewed this book, I love the characters so much that I’m doing so here again. Tempt Me at Twilight is my favourite Hathaway novel regardless of some plotting that verges on twee. The hero, Harry Rutledge, is a spectacular creation. He’s one of those men who in real life would be very difficult and less than ideal, but in the context of a romance novel is extraordinarily appealing. An autocratic, control freak, rake, he voluntarily gives up that last bit, but it is up to Poppy Hathaway to dismantle the rest. He is a typically sardonic, self-made Kleypas hero (I love them so) with a sad backstory and unrelenting ambition.
Poppy Hathaway is the least eccentric of the Hathaways and she longs for a simple, quiet life. The family beauty, she lacks the appropriate social skills to function well within the restrictions of Society. Her governess/social guide, Catherine Marks, has helped, but Poppy has a habit of talking too much when she is nervous and displaying “unbecoming” intellect and a broad range of interests. Harry takes one look, one listen really, and decides that it is time to marry; unfortunately, Poppy already has a suitor and Harry is not above manipulating the situation to get him out of the way. This bites Harry rather ferociously in the ass; nonetheless, he and Poppy are mutually fascinated, so Harry learns to have and show emotions.
Married by Morning – Leo Hathaway and Catherine Marks – Good, not great.
There’s a lot of Harry and Poppy in Married by Morning which is an excellent start. The pairing of the leads, Leo and Cat, is one that had been teased in the previous books and the book didn’t quite manage to live up to the hype. Please keep in mind that with Kleypas that still means that Married by Morning is better than 90% of the genre. Leo is charming and Cat delightfully prickly, but there was an element that was unusual for Kleypas, but explaining will involve spoilers. Highlight the text below for details:
Sex in romance is a representation of the bond between the characters, or the potential for one should they put consummation before their emotions. Kleypas writes fantastic love scenes and her smolder is impeccable. I never thought I would say this about her, but Married by Morning gets the sex wrong. Cat spent part of her life being trained as a courtesan, but escaped before she could be pressed into participation. Romantically inexperienced, she has been taught that her character is innately suited to the oldest profession. When Leo and Cat’s relationship becomes physical, it moves too fast. It took the standard romance trope of getting over one’s shyness swiftly and puts it on a fast track. A heroine can be willing and shy simultaneously. As Cat is particularly vulnerable in this area, there was too much too soon.
Love in the Afternoon – Beatrix Hathaway and Christopher Phelan – Very good/great.
This is a sweet and lovely story featuring one of romance’s legion of heroes suffering from PTSD. What better match for him than an eccentric young woman who has a way with wounded creatures? Christopher and Beatrix began an epistolary romance while he was fighting in the Crimea. They fall in love, which is nice for everyone involved, except that Christopher thinks the author of his letters is a different woman. When Christopher comes home, he is confused and frustrated to find that his supposed pen pal is inane and that he is drawn to the peculiar Beatrix. While keeping the trademark Kleypas smolder, Love in the Afternoon is a story of two broken people who fit together and find a way forward. It has improved in my estimation on every re-read. The story is true to one of the most important elements for genuine romance: The main characters find each other and become more together and individually than they would have been apart.
All five Hathaway books have last-minute agita that delays the happy ending, but since they are by Lisa Kleypas, they still have tremendous entertainment value, no matter what plot elements might be rickety. More importantly, she is a master craftsman and writes, hands down, the most consistently attractive men in romance. I haven’t read her current Rainshadow Road series, but I have read just about everything else she has published. A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.