Let the arguing begin. Is it rape? Or just a strongly-maneuvered seduction? All the readers who worked themselves into a lather over last year's A Well Pleasured Lady can dust off their boxing gloves and have at it. As for me, I'll be busy re-reading the enchanting and unusual A Well Favored Gentleman, this year's follow-up. As good as this book was, I have the nagging feeling I missed something the first time around.
Ian Fairchild longs to possess Fionnaway Manor. It's the only place he ever felt at home as a child, free from the burden of being born into the notoriously craven Fairchild family. Leslie Fairchild, Ian's father, has been guardian to the heiress of Fionnaway, but the heiress has been missing for years. Now Leslie is dying, and as soon as he's gone, Fionnaway Manor will pass to Ian. At last Ian will have a place to call home.
There's only one thing standing in his way. Ian awakes in the night to find a woman sitting on his chest and holding a knife to his throat. She declares she's the Lady Alanna, but alludes to being an angel with malevolent plans if he dares to take over Fionnaway. Ian knows this makes no sense. Angels don't nick people's throats with knives and then disappear. Lady Alanna must be alive. But where is she?
Alanna is indeed alive, and has spent the last few years masquerading as the local witch, complete with hunchback and gray hair. Leslie's impending death brings her out of hiding. If only she could bring herself to hate the son with the same rage she feels for the father. Adding to her confusion is the fact that Ian is not an ordinary man. He has selkie blood in his veins, and with that legacy comes certain powers.
This fierce Scottish beauty mesmerizes Ian, for his part. Knowing that Alanna will regain control of Fionnaway on her twenty-first birthday, and seeing his dream slipping out of reach, Ian takes a desperate chance. He uses his powers to engineer a small accident where Alanna twists her ankle, then doses herself with wine in order to sleep. During that sleep, Ian comes to her bed. Alanna is aware of the sensations, the passion, but cannot (or will not) fully remember the act.
At this point, some readers may be turned off. All I can say is it worked for me. Dodd does an excellent job of presenting Ian as a caring, vulnerable man who longs for a home, and sees his only chance fading fast. It helps that she fills him with self-doubt even as he plans Alanna's seduction. And the dosing with wine business isn't what he intended, but he uses it to his advantage in his effort to bind Alanna to him. This is a historical novel. Given Ian's past, and the women who have run from him and his selkie heritage, he never expects to find love, so this planned seduction seemed in character to me and not objectionable.
In fact, it's a fun twist to the plot that these two are trying to use each other in exactly the same way but don't realize it. Ian wants Alanna to become his wife so he can keep Fionnaway. Alanna wants to marry Ian so she can fulfill the clan agreement for a husband, and keep Fionnaway. In the end, Fionnaway is the least of their problems as they grapple with falling in love.
The middle of the book seemed to drag a bit, and I felt too much time was given over to a secondary character named Wilda, a cousin of Ian's. Wilda is twenty-nine and unmarried, a woman with the face of a goddess and a peanut-sized brain. Much is made of her astonishing beauty and her airheaded speech. Ian is kind to her, much the way one would be kind to a favorite dog, but her disjointed, childlike dialogue wore thin pretty quickly, and other than existing as a foil for Alanna and Ian, I couldn't quite figure out what she was doing in the story. Maybe this is what I missed the first time around.
Readers who like their sexual tension hot will love this book. Among Ian's powers is the ability to slip into Alanna's dreams, which he uses to astonishing effect, especially when she claims not to remember their night of passion. As a device to wear down Alanna's defenses, it worked beautifully. Have ice water handy.
A Well Favored Gentleman is going to gain plenty of new fans for Christina Dodd. Part romance, part fantasy, part Scottish legend, it's all delightful. Romance readers will feel well-favored, indeed.