One of my most favorite regency romance series is Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. It currently stands at 7 books (the latest came out last Tuesday). I have re-read the series multiple times because I can’t help myself. And so I am taking the opportunity of this most recent release to review each book individually:
- The Perils of Pleasure
- Like No Other Lover
- Since the Surrender
- I Kissed An Earl
- What I Did for a Duke
- How the Marquess Was Won
Published in November 2012. I received an advanced reader copy from HarperCollins/Avon.
As this the final review of the seven, if you have read the other six, it will come as no surprise to you that I loved this book. While How the Marquess Was Won is still my most favorite (with I Kissed an Earl not far behind), this one falls just behind (even as I write this, I recognize the futility of attempting to order the Pennyroyal Series books).
The premise is rather simple. Reverend Adam Sylvaine, who has appeared in the series since book 3 and is related to Everseas through the matriarch of the family, spends his life in Pennyroyal Green serving his parishioners. He is a very good vicar and the role consumes his life. A telling scene with the lead lady protagonist illustrates the latter part:
“Sometimes the only choices we have, even the ones made out of love, isolate us.” He said this quietly.
She looked slowly up at him.
His eyes met hers.
He understood. And she understood: Who asked him about himself? Who truly saw him? Who took care of him? The people here saw in him their own desires and needs; they saw him as a set of qualities, as beautiful and kind and trustworthy. He was what they needed him to be.
Not unlike her.
“You’re lonely.” It emerged inflected with revelation. She didn’t add “too.” She knew that was understood.
“She” is the notorious Evie Duggan, former actress and widowed countess with a reputation so large in London that she ran to Pennyroyal hoping to escape its shadow. Of course, no woman can escape a reputation as gossiped about as hers. Colin Eversea, the hero of the first Pennyroyal book, explains her past to Adam:
“Well, in the beginning, Reverend Sylvaine,” he intoned, “There was the Green Apple Theater. The Countess of Wareham was known as Evie Duggan then. She was an opera dancer. Sang a bit, danced a bit, acted a bit, showed her ankles, wore gossamer clothing. There was a song-and-dance bit about pirates I liked a good deal. She became quite the attraction. We all vied for her attention. Spend my allowance on flowers for her more than once. She would have naught to do with me, of course, because she knew what she wanted, and I wasn’t it. Not enough money. No title. Mind you, she was frank about it and never unkind. Such were the charms of Miss Evie Duggan that she rapidly moved up in the world — started appearing in plays at Convent Garden… And then a man wealthy enough came along,” Colin continued, “or something along those lines, because she gave up the theater and became what we’ll call a professional courtesan. And then another man came along who had more money and power, and she gave up the first man. And then she married…the Earl of Wareham when he won the right to do it in a card game…. then the Earl of Wareham died just a short while after they married. Rumor has it she killed him.”
They have very different life histories, Adam and Evie, yet, as the first quoted passage made clear, they are both very lonely. The Notorious Countess is about how these two very lonely, very different people forge an unlikely friendship. Their connection overflows with sexual tension and yet nothing physical happens. Evie’s past, of course, is more complicated that Colin knows. Adam’s attraction to her is in constant conflict with his profession, especially as he serves a population of people who judge Evie endlessly.
Halfway through the book, they waltz. And – oh my heavens – their attraction has been building and building such that him simply touching her hand and her waist is almost too much to bear. A little while later, after putting a necklace around her neck, he FINALLY kisses her – ON THE NECK! And you’re so emotionally taut and worn down by this point, you can’t imagine, as the reader, how the characters themselves have not yet ripped each other’s clothes off and done it up against the nearest tree. But if they had, if Long had written it that way, it would not have been honest to the characters, their pasts, their presents, or how they see their futures. Long, like these two characters she has written, does not give in simply because that is easier. I love/hate her for it as a reader.
There is nothing manufactured in Adam and Evie’s long, slow burn of a relationship. And Long’s narration is glorious in all its pain.
And I love that in this tale, it is Adam, our vicar, who knows very little about making love and Evie, our former courtesan, who is the expert (it is rare to find a regency romance with this dynamic).
How this ends, well, we all KNOW the ultimate result (it is a romance novel, of course). But it is not an easy road from the point when they have sex to the denouement. They make poor choices, Adam in particular, and it is hard to watch the relationship for which we have waited so long suddenly unravel (harsh HARSH words are spoken – I actually gasped out loud reading them). But it makes the final scene that much more spectacular.