Miss 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.