The tortured hero remains an ever popular character in romance novels. Yet he is a tricky character to create. He must be both vulnerable and suffering yet strong enough to be attractive. In Lord Neville Hawke, Rexanne Becnel has created the perfect tortured hero. She has also created a heroine who is strong enough and wise enough to provide the
healing the hero needs.
Miss Olivia Byrde is in her third season as the story begins. A beautiful and charming young woman, she has had her share of offers but has refused them all. Instead, she has helped her friends to find the right husband by virtue of her astute evaluation of the ton’s eligible gentlemen. She keeps notes on all of society’s bachelors in her journal, which she calls “the matchmaker.”
Olivia’s widowed mother despairs of her daughter’s resistance to marriage. She herself has no such qualms. Indeed, the lovely Augusta has been wed and widowed three times. She is now in pursuit of husband number four and this pursuit leads her and her daughter to Doncaster and the races. There, at the house of friends, Olivia encounters Lord Neville Hawke. It is not a happy meeting.
Lord Neville is a Scottish noble who was a distinguished soldier in the late war. His experiences have left him scarred. In particular, he cannot sleep at night and has taken to drink to get through the dark hours. Awakening early one morning, Olivia finds Neville in the library. More than a little inebriated, Neville makes improper advances and Olivia flees. But she leaves her journal behind and Neville discovers it. He draws erroneous conclusions about her character, which leads to another confrontation. Olivia and Neville do not get off to a good start.
Neville is immensely intrigued by and attracted to this unusual young woman. No simpering miss she. Olivia is less impressed by Lord Hawke. He seems all to much like her late, unlamented father - a man of good looks, incredible charm and weak character. Yet when he steals a kiss, he effects her as no other man has.
Neville pursues Olivia, despite her resistance. He feels intuitively that they are soul-mates, that she might provide him with the peace he so desperately needs. Olivia is mightily attracted to the Scottish lord. Her fears about his character are understandable. Yet what is she to make of the feelings he arouses in her?
Often, this “Your kisses make me melt but I don’t trust or like you” scenario doesn’t work very well; the relationship seems merely physical and lacks emotional resonance. This is not the case here. Becnel makes sure that we know that Neville is a good but troubled man. She also shows us his charm so that we understand why Olivia is attracted to him. He is hard to resist. But we also know why Olivia does resist. The memory of unhappiness that her father caused for her mother is deeply embedded in Olivia’s psyche and explains her feelings. We also see why and how her feelings change.
Becnel provides an interesting cast of secondary characters. Particularly well drawn is Augusta, a woman who needs to be married and who, while she understands her daughter’s feelings, is determined that Olivia not throw away her chance for love.
The Matchmaker is an entertaining and emotional historical romance. Becnel has made the transition from the middle ages to the 19th century very nicely. If her grasp of the era is not flawless (see below), she nonetheless has created a wonderful “tortured hero” and a heroine who is his match. This is a very enjoyable romance.
(N.B. I did have one problem with the book, one that is probably unique to me and can be ignored by everyone else. Supposedly, the experience that causes Neville’s sleepless nights occurred at the battle of Ligny. This battle was a part of the Waterloo campaign. Thus, if our story takes place in 1818 and Neville has been home for four years, the dates
don’t work. More problematic for yours truly is the fact that the battle was fought between the French and the Prussians. There was not a single British battalion at Ligny as far as I know. Thus, every time Ligny was mentioned, I was pulled right out of the story. This was the only fault I found with the book.)