This adorable Regency romance is the perfect summer read!
Book: The Marquess Next Door by Virginia Heath
Publication date: 24th June 2021
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: discussion of medical/mental health-related abuse; discussion of postpartum psychosis.
A dashing new neighbour…
Temptation on her doorstep!
To avoid an unwanted suitor at a ball, Hope Brookes asks another gentleman to rescue her. He obliges—with a surprisingly passionate kiss! He’s revealed as her sinfully handsome new neighbor, Lucius, Marquess of Thundersley, and they forge a friendship over their balconies. It’s refreshing that Lucius is more interested in her writer dreams than her looks, so why can’t she stop thinking about that kiss?
This is exactly the kind of fun and sweet Regency romance that I like! It’s full of banter and emotional connection, with very enjoyable characters and a premise that’s just the right side of ridiculous. If you like the humorous set-ups of Erica Ridley and Tessa Dare, you will definitely be amused by this tale of two people falling in love from their adjoining balconies. The Marquess Next Door is the second book in a series about three sisters, but it’s perfectly readable as a standalone – I haven’t yet read the first book, but there was nothing that felt like it was missing or confusing here.
The characters are lovely. Their conversation really shines – not only is it genuinely witty, it’s also so warm and affectionate. It’s really easy to see how emotionally starved both Luke and Hope are, and their connection feels so real as they learn to trust one another. Hope in particular is very guarded, as her curvy body means she’s had more than her fair share of objectification and harassment from men who think a large bosom means loose morals, and I thought her journey to realising that Luke liked her for herself, not her body, was very well-written. I also loved her nervousness about letting Luke read her novel! For Luke’s part, he’s traumatised by his father’s abuse of his vulnerable mother, which is a backstory that’s often used in romance fiction, but I thought there was a very fresh take on it here: rather than being scared he’ll repeat the horrors of the past, becoming aloof, he’s actually overly protective and caring of his mother, himself, and his friends, and I absolutely adored seeing such a sensitive, emotionally literate hero learn to trust. The plotline in general is an interesting look at how postpartum psychosis was misunderstood and ‘treated’, and it may be a little harrowing for some to read; be careful if it’s a subject you’re sensitive to, but there is a happy ending for Luke’s mother too. Despite the darkness of some of the story, this is on the whole a fairly light-hearted read, and there are plenty of cheerful, sweet and funny moments to offset the more serious parts.
With so few opportunities for men and women to spend meaningful time together alone in this period, romance writers often have to work hard to create situations where their hero and heroine can be friends, but I’ve not seen it done so cleverly as this before. I loved the premise of their balconies being close enough to touch, and the cosy warmth that came from Hope and Luke sharing the quiet edges of the day, sitting out with hot chocolate after everyone else was in bed, or meeting in the early morning before anyone else was awake. It gives their relationship such a solidness, a sense of domesticity, that their quiet moments and hidden bits of daily life are shared in a way they otherwise wouldn’t be until marriage. It was all so sweet and lovely, and really gave me faith that they would have a great foundation for their future.
I’ll always have a large soft spot for friends to lovers romance, and this is a gorgeous example of one that really manages to nail the intimacy and connection between the leads. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in this series, and really recommend this one! Five out of five cats.
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