When I saw the stepback artwork for Jacquie D’Alessandro’s newest release, Who Will Take This Man?, I burst out laughing. If anyone is lamenting the loss of cheesy artwork featuring a half-naked “historical” heroine wearing Victoria’s Secret lingerie and sporting an immense mane of flowing hair, then this cover is for you. For the rest of us, I suggest you flip the book upside down – then it’s flat-out hilarious. This is what a woman might look like with a tumbleweed glued to her head.
But I digress. The talented Ms. D’Alessandro provides her fans with an entertaining story – and frankly, she probably couldn’t tell a boring one – but the main plot device is that old standby, a curse. Readers’ enjoyment is likely to hinge on whether they’re willing to suspend belief. And it’s a big suspension.
Philip Whitmore, Viscount Greybourne, has returned to London after twelve or so years of adventuring and antiquarian hunting. His father is ill and wishes him to marry before he dies, and Philip is willing to oblige. To that end, Father has hired Meredith Chilton-Grizedale to find him a perfect wife. Meredith just knows that this marriage will cement her reputation as the ultimate matchmaker of London society.
Philip arrives in town determined to end the engagement, however. Seems he’s unearthed an ancient stone tablet with a mysterious inscription that turns out to be a curse when translated. (It translates into perfectly rhyming English, I might add.) Until the curse is broken, anyone Philip marries will faint, come down with a bad headache, and then drop dead two days later. His partner’s wife has already died, presumably because the partner handled the tablet. Philip can’t be the cause of an innocent’s death, so he encourages his fiancée to cry off. She obliges by eloping with another man.
Unfortunately, the fiancée is the daughter of a duke, and said duke is now determined to ruin Meredith’s reputation as a matchmaker. Philip is now the most Un-Marriageable Man in London, a challenge Meredith can’t resist. If she can marry him off, her reputation will be restored. Also, she can help him search for the missing pieces of the tablet, which might contain a clue as to how the curse can be broken.
Someone else is after the missing pieces, however, and Philip and Meredith will find themselves in danger. Meanwhile, they are growing increasingly attracted to one another. Meredith harbors a secret about her past, however, that makes her rather unsuitable to be a viscount’s wife – even without the curse.
The interaction between Philip and Meredith is mostly sharp and witty. These two are clearly meant for one another, and their pasts are more of a magnet than they realize. Philip, who grew up shy, pudgy, and bookish, has matured into an attractive, intelligent man with little interest in the posturings of the ton. Meredith’s shady past means nothing to him, as his plan is to get the hell out of stuffy England and return to more exotic lands. He was a terrific hero.
Meredith’s obsession with attaining respectability began to wear a bit thin, especially once it became obvious that Philip planned to marry her. The final separation is nothing more than Meredith playing the self-sacrificing victim, insisting she’s not good enough for Philip, who clearly adores her. And the villain, unfortunately, is standard issue and easy to spot. Readers will have him identified within the first two chapters.
The author’s trademark is the wit and style of her conversations between her characters. She doesn’t fail here. Meredith and Philip can hold their own, and do, against each other. Yet it’s done in a mature fashion. These aren’t bickering aristocrats being passed off as lovers, but rather realistic adults.
Who Will Take This Man? has a lot to offer if the silliness of the curse bit doesn’t put you off. Hopefully, now that Ms. D’Alessandro has written the obligatory Curse Book, she can move on to better and stronger plots. Her past books certainly prove she has the knack for them. And for laughs, there’s always that cover.