I’d never read a Maxwell romance and embarked on A Match Made In Bed with curiosity and enthusiasm. Because I’m a naïve, gullible reader who’s too easily pleased, I lauded Maxwell to a Twitter friend and smiled smugly to myself on having “discovered” a great, new-to-me historical romance author. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up where I began. A Match Made In Bed showed initial promise. The hero and heroine intrigued me and the narrative promised compelling themes about money, women’s place in society, class, and family dynamics.
Soren York, Lord Dewsberry, and Miss Cassandra Holwell meet at a house party held outside of London. It’s not their first encounter. They share an interesting history: their Cornish-origined families have long feuded over past deception. Soren, aware of Cassandra’s dislike, yet woos her … because he needs an heiress’s money to bolster his soon-to-be-lost estate, Pentreath Castle. The novel opens with great banter and a wonderful antagonistic attraction between Cassandra and Soren. Even though Soren is mercenary, Maxwell manages to show us how he’s also kind and honourable. Cassandra is bookish and intelligent and has a lot of our sympathy, nursing a childhood hurt inflicted, unknowingly mind you, by Soren.
Soren and Cassandra really do share a terrific backstory, with Soren’s betrayal standing between them. I enjoyed how clueless Soren was about the incident and I especially enjoyed how coldly standoffish Cassandra was towards him. I thought this could lead to some delicious conflict between the two when they’re forced to wed. Because circumstances conspire to land Cassandra in a compromised position and Soren is the only one who can redeem her. Maxwell follows their hasty marriage (amidst great anger and disapproval on Cassandra’s father’s and stepmother’s parts) with ruminations, on both their parts, idealizing what marriage will be. Maxwell wants to show us her hero’s and especially heroine’s naïveté and she does a good job of it. I nodded and smiled along and looked forward to Soren’s and Cassandra’s falls. My first niggling sense of dissatisfaction came with the purple-prose-infused wedding night/love scene. But, as a I said, I’m a reader always ready to be convinced of a book’s greatness, so I ignored my disquiet.
I should have attended to my reading spidey sense because A Match Made In Bed went from great to oops to yawn-will-it-never-end. Something happens to Cassandra after experiencing Soren’s love-making that renders her stupid. Like dumb, blah-blah circumstances conspire and she and Soren are left without financial resources and yet she wants to return to Cornwall by private conveyance. Can’t you see, girl, that the poor guy didn’t have money to even pay the hotel? Soren, in the meanwhile, is leeched of all flesh and colour: he becomes one boring mass of niceness (though his magic peen never wavers in providing Cassandra with a full fire-works display of pleasure … at least there’s that.) Then, there is Soren’s first wife, a native woman, a “Canadian” (Canada didn’t exist in 1813) of the “Lenape tribe”, who, even though conveniently dead, is recalled with unwavering stereotypical detail by Soren.
The novel’s sins don’t stop there: clunky deus ex machina lumber onto the scene and revelations come thick and fast, like a cloud of gnats. In the end, the melodrama proved thick while the character development was, at best, lite. The second half of the novel read like Maxwell’s synopsis, as she recited what her characters thought, felt, and did. They’d left the stage by the first third and their pale ghosts remained, with no entertainment value to this reader. There was initial promise here, but it petered out; with Miss Austen, we can only say that A Match Made In Bed offers only “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Cathy Maxwell’s A Match Made In Bed is published by Avon Books. It was released on April 17th and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Avon Books, via Edelweiss+.