If Ever I Should Love You, Historical Romance by Cathy Maxwell
Series: The Spinster Heiresses #1
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Reading Romance in high frequency and volume can cause genre fatigue. (at least, it does for me) This is the third book by Cathy Maxwell that impressed upon me the need to shake things up without flipping the proverbial table. It’s subtle, and certainly not readily apparent from a blurb.
The Earl of Rochdale, formerly Lieutenant Roman Gilchrist stationed in India, finds himself in need of funds when a couple of hardened gamesters dun him for debts owed by the man who has just vacated the title. As often happens, it is suggested he marry to obtain the necessary money.
Fortunately there are three possible candidates who have earned the collective nickname “Spinster Heiresses.” One of which is charming but troubled Leonie Charnock, whom Roman knew years ago in India. In fact, he blames her for his demotion and subsequent difficulties, all things that his inheritance has ameliorated.
Leonie doesn’t want to marry, and for good reason. Weighed down by trauma and secrets, as well as neglectful parents, she simply wants freedom to pursue her own interests and control her own life.
Unfortunately, the “spinster heiresses” thing fails to amount to much. The other two women are barely characterised before they vanish. It seems like a mere nod to the series concept, which may or may not be disappointing to any given reader, but this one rather took issue with Leonie having a shallow and uninteresting relationship with her so-called friends. She doesn’t confide in them and she seems to forget they exist once she’s married and on her way to her husband’s family seat. There’s also a flirting game that gets a lot of setup and literally no payoff. I’m assuming it comes up in the second book. Even so. It makes everything before the marriage look structurally shaky. (Like Bonhomie, Roman’s falling-down home! …it’s missing a wall.)
The marriage is one of convenience–Roman needs money and Leonie needs independence. He comes out with a ludicrously confident “offer” and she only accepts when she decides it’s what she wants to do. I loved Leonie. She had all of my sympathy for her problems, and I admired her strength and wit. Being powerless was definitely one of her biggest hurdles, but when she cleared it, she soared. Most noticeably when she and Roman arrive at Bonhomie and she charms his family before lighting into him for lying to her.
Roman’s priggishness and control issues were things I struggled with for most of the book. To me, it felt like other characters were aware of his flaws but he never had to actually confront them or change in any meaningful way. He was self righteous and judged Leonie harshly for her shortcomings, but his bad behaviour was either immediately excused or ignored entirely.
One major point in the book’s favour, and the thing that impressed me most, was that this is the first time I have seen a serious, realistic treatment of alcohol addiction in a heroine. I thought it was executed quiet well. It didn’t take over the narrative or transform it from a Romance to something else. It was a perfectly natural part of Leonie’s character arc, not an overdramatised problem magically solved by love or sex. The second half of the book actually feels a bit like inspirational fiction (in a good way, remember I used the word ‘subtle’) as Maxwell gives the couple time to be two separate characters and Leonie finds her serenity. Roman’s family come in relatively late for supporting characters, but the mood changes with their introduction, which aides the pacing.
My issues with the hero aside, this was a refreshing read. After their initial bumpy road, the romance is incredibly tender. Roman does some of the right things, particularly in regards to Leonie’s trauma (no spoilers, although a savvy reader will know what it is almost immediately). I did like that he went a bit broody after getting married (even if he had to be a control freak about it) and no I don’t mean “brooding.” I mean broody like a hen.