Horses. Horses. Horses. Horses and more horses. Oh yeah, a hero and heroine. Then some more horses. The only madness in The Mad Marquis is an acute case of horse craziness.
Julia Westland has always felt more at home with horses than people. Breeding, raising and training her family's horses is her whole life, a fact she will state over and over ad nauseum. She never wants to marry, that would mean giving up her horses. She never wants to have children, that would mean giving up riding and her horses.
Color her surprised when her dying father makes a marriage deal with her greatest rival in horsedom, Lord Henry Pelham. Henry is a widow with a young daughter. He is reluctant to marry, but knows his daughter Isabeau needs a mother. So he chooses Julia because he thinks she will be practical enough to go along with his odd rules for marriage. No sex and no children. Henry believes insanity runs through his family, so he cannot risk any more crazy Pelhams.
Julia rejects the proposal at first, only to realize that if she does not marry Henry, she will lose her precious horses. So of course, she marries him and agrees to their bizarre marriage of convenience. She's fine with the rules because sex=children=no horses. At least she is at first.
One kiss from Henry and Julia suddenly decides that she couldn't possible live without passion. Upon arriving at her new home, Julia starts suspecting that Henry's relatives aren't insane, just a little eccentric. She decides to convince Henry that his fears are misplaced and makes it her mission to make their marriage a true one.
The marriage of convenience plot has been beaten, in keeping with theme, like a dead horse. Carr is obviously trying to freshen this tired plot by adding reams of horsey love but it goes to the point of scary obsession. Julia lives, breaths and, one suspects, lusts, horses. Everything is measured in terms of horse. Henry is a stallion, Isabeau is an orphaned foal, and children are fillies. Even the sex scenes are riddled with tired equine clichés like "Ride me, Henry." Get over it.
Not only is Julia an over the top horse freak, but she's a stubborn, hyper-feminist one at that. She has to argue every point with Henry. She has to complain about feminine fripperies constantly. In case the reader doesn't get it, every chapter is begun with a quote from the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft,
As if all that wasn't bad enough, Julia is constantly getting into internal little snits about Henry's lack of affection. Henry's proposal wasn't romantic enough; Henry didn't notice she was wearing a pretty dress. Henry doesn't want to kiss her again. All this after she agreed to a passionless, sexless marriage of convenience. Enough with the inconsistent heroines who willingly agree to something but then get all indignant when it turns out exactly the way they were told.
Henry is barely a blip on the radar. Due to Carr's very "tell not show" style of writing, he comes off very one-dimensional. Henry thinks his family is mad. He doesn't want children. He wants Julia, but must not act on it. The reader never gets in his head. Why is he so afraid of love? Why does he think his family is destined to be insane? The few dotty relatives don't seem to be enough of a reason.
The lack of depth in the hero and positively annoying heroine make for a lackluster romance. The reader doesn't care about these people because they either don't know them or are repelled by them. There are some amusing scenes involving Henry's eccentric relatives, but they are few and far between.
I was an avid equestrian as an adolescent, riding in shows, so I get horse love. This book, however, is way too much. It's not surprising to find out in the author blurb that Carr's pastimes include raising horses and writing romances. She would do well to separate her two hobbies in the future.