October 2012, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Zebra, $6.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 1420128868 Part of a series
Sometimes the hardest books to assess are the ones where the parts don't add up to a coherent whole. In Season for Surrender, the good parts of the book really were strong: Deep introspection that didn't devolve into psychobabble, characters who really do grow and change, and a sweet romance. However, the plotting dragged painfully at times, making the Regency house party setting feel like the most boring Christmas festival ever.
Alexander Edgeware, Lord Xavier, plays a well-defined role in Society. He is good humored, witty, a rake, and a man who always wins his bets. Xavier enjoys a deliciously scandalous reputation, but one that entertains rather than risks heavy censure. The book opens with his cousin Lockwood challenging him to a bet. The two wager ten pounds on whether Xavier can convince Louisa Oliver, a proper young bluestocking, to attend Xavier's infamous Christmas house party. If Louisa leaves before the party ends, Xavier loses the bet.
Louisa has already suffered the indignity of a broken engagement in Season for Temptation, the book preceding this one. She has resigned herself to a life on the shelf, but she would like to have an adventure or two before fading off into spinsterhood. When Xavier's invitation arrives, she sees it as an opportunity to escape her old life for a bit, and so she travels to Clifton Hall with her aunt, the sharp-witted Lady Irving, as chaperone. Though somewhat naive, Louise still knows that Xavier's parties are known for their inappropriate guests and activities, and she wonders what kind of fun she will have.
As it turns out, Xavier has tamed his usual guest list somewhat for Louisa's benefit as he is determined to win his bet. Even so, he has still invited an assortment of proper relatives, nobility, and a few less respectable parties such as a voluptuous Italian opera singer and a young widow known for her less than proper ways. Early on, Xavier and Louisa bond over their mutual love of Dante, and they end up finding a mysterious coded book in the estate library to decode. The romance grows from there, as do the intrigues related to Xavier and Lockwood's tug of war over their bet. Some of Xavier's teasing, especially at first, seems a bit silly, but much of the romance is actually quite touching.
The bulk of the romantic part of the story grows through the conversations of Louisa and Xavier. Xavier flirts outrageously with Louisa, true to his usual persona. However, Louisa sees through some of his ploys and challenges him to show his real self. Used to getting his way by playing his expected role of the rake and entertainer, Xavier does not know how to handle Louisa, but one can tell that he is very attached to her. Despite the setting of the supposedly lively house party, much of the romance in this story grows quietly. Xavier, in particular, grows a lot as a person and starts to change as he spends time with Louisa, realizing that he cannot play his usual role and expect to win her. The moment where he realizes that, "He was a paste necklace of a person: suitable for parties and masquerades, but not appropriate for occasions of genuine significance," marks a real turning point for him. We see growth like this, introspective but not completely full of psychobabble, throughout the second half of the book. These small moments, strung together, show growth by both characters and they also show the reader a real relationship developing.
Louisa, on the other hand, simply does not know how to take her conversations with Xavier or what to expect. The changes in Louisa are more subtle, but they still feel real. She did end up as an object of gossip after a broken engagement, after all. And by nature, Louisa is something of a bookish and quiet person anyway. With Xavier, Louisa learns how to come out of her shell a bit and by the end of things, she has the strength to stand up for herself.
While the romance has some extremely sweet moments, many of them come toward the second half of the book, and the plotting makes it a bit of a slog to get there. At one point, Lockwood complains to Xavier about the dullness of his newly tame house party, and I have to admit that I agreed. The book spends so much time setting up the house party and dealing with the various guests that I found myself putting the book down for days before picking it up again. Louisa and Xavier were likable enough, but not enough to carry the story. It wasn't bad, but it was sometimes dull and forgettable.
-- Lynn Spencer
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