REVIEW: Sophia James’s MARRIAGE MADE IN MONEY, And Convenience Questioned

Marriage_Made_In_MoneyMiss Bates is grateful NOT to be adding Sophia James’s Marriage Made In Money to a DNF post. She was sooo glad to find a romance novel that at least kept her attention to the HEA. James’s alliteratively-titled Marriage Made In Money echoes Mary Balogh’s A Christmas Promise and Rose Lerner’s In For A Penny, favourites of Miss Bates’s. (If you haven’t read them, do it now!) Marriage-of-convenience on the basis of one of the two characters’ need for money, usually the impoverished lord, is often a difficult trope-variation for Miss Bates to stomach. It takes subtle skill to convince a reader that the marriage-deal’s mercenary nature can turn to love and devotion; after all, one of the two protagonists is morally compromised from the get-go. Balogh’s and Lerner’s romances convince. James’s tried. Amethyst Amelia Cameron, 26, and widowed, her former marriage a  sham of abuse and trauma, agrees to marry Daniel Wylde, 6th Earl of Montcliffe and Napoleonic war veteran, to make her tradesman-father, gravely ill, happy. Lord Daniel agrees to marry Amethyst to save his crumbling, debt-ridden estates, brought to this low point by his gambling brother, Nigel, whose untimely death also left him a peevish, spendthrift mother and two unmarried sisters. (Just once, Miss Bates would like to read a romance that reverses that convention … but then mercenary women are not half as attractive as men, right?) The novel follows Amethyst and Daniel as they interact, attract each other, misunderstand each other, and stumble their way to an HEA.

Miss Bates doesn’t quite know what to make of James’s romance. It was uneven, with dubious plotting, strange phrasing, and inconsistent characterization. Yet, Miss Bates was caught up in the story. She didn’t exactly enjoy it, but it did engage her. James was trying to do something, working not to run to formula: the result isn’t perfect, but interesting. She wasn’t always in control of her material: when she was, it was good; when she wasn’t, it was bizarre.

Miss Bates wants to share an example of James’s use of juxtaposed imagery. James foreshadows the hurt that Daniel and Amethyst will inflict on each other. Daniel and Amethyst are brought together when he rescues her father from an attack: “She reached his side and all but pulled her father out of Daniel’s grasp, the sharp edge of a fingernail carving skin away from his wrist” (i.e., Daniel’s wrist, not her father’s). Miss Bates thought the detailing somewhat icky, but the attempt interesting. On their wedding day, Daniel gifts Amethyst a diamond ring. A girl’s best friend, you’d think? No, Amethyst hates diamonds, as a diamond ring was given her by her abusive husband. Daniel is aware of this, but resentful of how she deceived him into the marriage, so he cruelly makes a point of gifting her with the same: “The day was threaded with strangeness and juxtaposition,” thinks Daniel, and “the diamond ring sliced a scratch right across her cheek.” The problem lies in Daniel’s characterization: a man of honour, a solider who served king and country, a kind man, says Amethyst, who loves him pretty blindly from the moment she sees him, behaves so cruelly. Amethyst, on the other hand, never does; she is kind, loving, and she has integrity, unlike Daniel. That these little hurts are juxtaposed in this way was dissonant.

Daniel’s characterization is capricious. On the one hand, James wants to establish him as an idealized hero, witness Amethyst’s impression of him: “If she could, she would have closed her eyes and only felt Daniel’s arms about her, the steady beat of his heart, the smell of strength and maleness and honour.” Miss Bates isn’t sure that maleness, strength, and honour have a scent, but she sure can tell when a man (or woman) behave dishonourably – and that would be Daniel. When one of his former lovers publicly humiliates Amethyst by exposing her former marriage, Amethyst, helpless and naïve, looks to Daniel for help; he judges her thus, ” … disbelief mixed with disdain.” He hustles her out of the ball. In the carriage-ride to her home, Amethyst has a panic attack (she suffers from PTSD after being in a horrific carriage accident that left her near dead). Amethyst is in terrible distress; Daniel’s response is devoid of decency, much less honour: ” ‘What the hell is wrong with you now?’ … ‘Are you crazy?’ ” He dumps her at home and doesn’t return, even out of courtesy to inquire how she is. He broods, handsomely, if not honourably: “her behaviour in the carriage so very deranged,” deems her “beautiful and crazy,” and celebrates his luck, “A lucky escape from a woman who was both deceitful and unstable.” After he agrees, again, to marry her and take her money, he sends her a bill for the damage to his carriage’s roof, which she caused in “her fit of madness.”

James employed an unappealing romance convention to establish her heroine’s virtue. She had her hero contrast her to other women – the result, again, is a hero who’s an ass. And, subsequently, a heroine who’s a dolt for loving him. Here’s Daniel’s first impression of Amethyst: “No woman had spoken to him so plainly before. Usually the opposite sex fawned about him, the wiles of femininity well practiced and honed and saying all that they thought he wished to hear.” Our heroine is honest; all other women, in Daniel’s tinsy experience of them, are not. She even smells better: ” … she smelt of lemon and flowers, none of the heady aromas the ladies in court seemed to be drawn towards and desire ignited within him.” And her mannerisms reflect her stalwart personality (he just doesn’t know she might be soft in the head for loving him): “Amethyst Amelia Cameron was honest to a fault and forthright and direct. She did not simper or lie or pretend. He was so very sick of the deceit of women … ” and “She was honest and real and true. A woman who did not lie or simper or deceive.” Daniel obviously has only known women who simper and deceive. Now, it IS true that Amethyst is likeable; what isn’t true is that Daniel is honourable, or considerate, or even polite. When Daniel’s paroxysms of love make an appearance in the epilogue, well, they’re not terribly convincing. In the end, he is a strange combination of the boorish and maudlin. But Amethyst likes him and that seems to make it all right.

Now that Miss Bates has vented about all things wrong, what about things right? What kept her reading? Why didn’t Marriage Made In Money end up in a DNF post? Other than James’s patchy attempt at something “different”, there were moments. Mainly, they came outre-romance, like Amethyst’s musing on the night sky: “Here in London the moon was high and full, tugging at her patience, stretching the limit of her city manners, making her feel housebound and edgy.” Who hasn’t pondered the night sky and experienced this restlessness? Even Daniel gets a few good lines; while this one skirts kitsch, Miss Bates got a kick out of it: “The maleness in him rose like a sail in the wind, full of promise and direction, but he had been down this path before and the wreck of memory was potent.” If only his “maleness” made some room for love. But Daniel and Amethyst (there’s a lovely play on the imagery of precious gems, reflecting the romance’s monetary theme) have their day – Daniel’s humble pie isn’t terribly grovelly, but there are more “Penniless Lords” to look forward to in Daniel’s, hopefully, more gracious friends. (While there was some nice prose coming Miss Bates’s way in Marriage Made In Money, Miss Bates can’t help but quote one of the clunkiest post-coital phrases she’s ever read, cue Daniel after the first bout of love-making with Amethyst: “He could see in her face the languid hope of sex.” Ugh.) In James’s romance, the first in her Penniless Lords series, Miss Bates found only “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.

Sophia James’s Marriage Made In Money, published by Harlequin (Historicals), has been available in paper and “e” since December 16th, 2014, at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates gratefully received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: Sophia James’s MARRIAGE MADE IN MONEY, And Convenience Questioned

  1. “A sail in the wind” ??? So very many, many sailing related jokes one could make here – planks, masts, cannons (military sailing ships, anyway) but all so ahhh, “freighted” with “cargo” I’ll refrain 😉 sorta…
    All jokes aside, I enjoyed this post. I do agree with you that money hungry women are sooo unattractive – but then so are money hungry men, although they’re rarely written that way, and I’m sure @tropeheroine would have a compelling 140 character argument against that : -) You said you couldn’t think of a money hungry heroine you liked, so I’ll just remind you of the wonderful review you gave GH Convenient Marriage! Not a fair comparison, I admit, as Horry does it to save her family and her older sister’s romance, and with the exception of using it as a plot device for misunderstandings and conflicts, it’s little mentioned. April Lady, another Heyer marriage of convenience tale uses this trope as well, and the money part is a good deal more on the surface of that book. It provides a nice contrast to CM.

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    • That sailing reference could have been a clunker, but I was charmed by it. My own weakness is for gradations of mast: half, full, etc 😉 … James often has a way with language, which is why she fails and then succeeds stupendously. The failures outweigh the successes in this case, but I’m curious as to what she does next.

      LOL to the GH Marriage of Convenience because I think MBRR’s readers remember her posts so much better than she does. It’s interesting that you bring up Horry because her agreement to the marriage is not done in desperation. She thinks about it, is agreeable to the idea, would like to help, hasn’t any beau of her own, etc.: her reasons are neither idealized, or mercenary. She’d be as happy staying home and ambling along with her life. I think Marriage of Convenience is as much a coming-of-age novel as it is a romance and the Divine Rule as much mentor/guide as husband. Gush, it really is such a great book!

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  2. As you work your way through Georgette Heyer’s books, you may well enjoy her true MOC story–A Civil Contract. The first time I read it, I didn’t care much for it–not romantic enough. When I re-read it 20+ years later, I could really appreciate the life the two main characters had built and recognize that they were truly content. It’s the basic impoverished uppercrust dude marries wealthy cit’s daughter.plotline. Added twists include the fact that they’ve know each other since they were kids. He’s in love with ravishing, but poor, beauty. Cit’s daughter, chubby and badly dressed, has carried a secret tendre for him for years.

    I thought of one ‘gal who needs money’ story–but she decides to become a rich lord’s mistress(!!) to get the money she needs to redeem the mortgage ,etc: “His Lordship’s Mistress” by Joan Wolf.

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    • I look forward to reading more Heyer: Civil Contract is in the TBR. I’m still trying to mow through all the click-happy e-ARCs I have. I’ve learned to temper meself since.

      That Joan Wolf sounds terrific!!!!!!!!

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  3. I think the problem with reversing this trope is how very hard it was for women to hold property then. And without money, what is the inducement for the man to marry the woman? I could imagine a promise or family obligation as a motivation, but it is challenging to make that premise work. So I think that’s why we usually see the woman with the money rather than the man.

    That said, this plot sounds so much like A Christmas Promise. And I agree with you, my dear Miss Bates–the latter was so well done, it would take a lot to challenge it!

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    • You’re right, I hadn’t thought of it in terms of women’s property non-rights. That makes sense. It might be interesting to see this in a contemporary, but it’d be very very hard to make the characters “heroic,” even sympathetic would be difficult … for a hero to marry for money, trophy-husband?

      Christmas Promise, Counterfeit Betrothal, and A Famous Heroine are my favourite Baloghs!

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  4. I don’t remember if you reviewed it, but in the beginning, Kate Westbrook of Cecilia Grant’s A Woman Entangled is seeking to marry for what could be interpreted as mercenary reasons, which turned off some readers. She’s actually more interested in status than wealth, and wants to use it to better her sisters’ lives, but whatever. I liked it because it brought some complexity and realism to the story.

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    • Oh my gosh, yes, I LOVED that book … I reviewed it. I’m so glad you reminded me; that’s perfect example of the opposite. As a matter of fact, all the heroines in that series may be seen as mercenary in some way. In A LADY AWAKENED, Martha uses Theo as a stud-bunny. It totally works to think about Grant’s trilogy in this way.

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