This light-hearted Regency romance will be perfect if you love a fake courtship plotline as much as I do!
Book: Never Fall For Your Fiancée by Virginia Heath
Publication date: 9th November 2021
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge via NetGalley. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: mentions of parental death; memories and effects of childhood neglect due to alcoholism.
The last thing Hugh Standish, Earl of Fareham, ever wants is a wife. Unfortunately for him, his mother is determined to find him one, even from across the other side of the ocean. So, Hugh invents a fake fiancée to keep his mother’s matchmaking ways at bay. But when Hugh learns his interfering mother is on a ship bound for England, he realizes his complicated, convoluted but convenient ruse is about to implode. Until he collides with a beautiful woman, who might just be the miracle he needs.
Minerva Merriwell has had to struggle to support herself and her two younger sisters ever since their feckless father abandoned them. Work as a woodcut engraver is few and far between, and the Merriwell sisters are nearly penniless. So, when Hugh asks Minerva to pose as his fiancée while his mother is visiting, she knows that while the scheme sounds ludicrous, the offer is too good to pass up.
Once Minerva and her sisters arrive at Hugh’s estate, of course, nothing goes according to his meticulous plan. As hilarity and miscommunication ensue, while everyone tries to keep their tangled stories straight, Hugh and Minerva’s fake engagement starts to turn into a real romance. But can they trust each other, when their relationship started with a lie?
I’m not really sure why this is being billed as a ‘rom-com’ with an illustrated cover rather than just a lighthearted regular Regency romance, but if that’s what’s working marketing-wise then who am I to object? Really though, this is not noticeably a different genre from Heath’s other work, nor the majority of the more fluffy Regency romance I read – which is perfect, in my opinion! What we get here is a solid fake courtship story with a very fun romance between two characters who annoy the hell out of each other until they realise they’re flirting, not bickering. There’s an entertaining cast of secondary characters, too, and just enough farce to be funny without being ridiculous.
I loved the set up for this one. People needing fake fiancés is a time-honoured trope in historical romance, but I really enjoyed the fact that it was Hugh instigating it – he’s been lying to his mother to gain a bit of peace from her questioning, kind of like a reverse of the situation in Tessa Dare’s When A Scot Ties the Knot, which is one of my favourites. It made me laugh that a large part of the reason he chose Minerva to act as his pretend bride was just that she had the right name – it’s so silly, but as someone who’s worked with terrible actors it makes so much sense. Of course, sparks fly between them almost instantly, and the romance proceeds exactly as you might imagine, but I enjoyed both their viewpoints enough to feel like it was fresh. Yes, Hugh’s motivation not to get married (in case he is a natural cheater like his father) was paper-thin, but you can say the same about a good handful of romance heroes, and you have to be able to suspend your disbelief to read romance anyway! I found their romance worked well as a solid centre to a book where everything else was amusingly unpredictable.
The secondary cast is large and varied, with Minerva’s sisters, Hugh’s rakish friend, and of course Hugh’s family all adding to the general chaos. I found myself losing patience with Vee, the youngest of Minerva’s sisters, who was extremely childish, and Diana, who seemed to blow up at everything, but for me, many scenes were stolen by the actress Hugh hires to play the girls’ mother. Her overdramatic portrayal of a society mama was so unhelpful, but so funny! Hugh’s mother isn’t the harpy he makes her out to be, and she and her laidback American husband add another layer of stories that need to be kept straight – the chaos that ensues when everyone’s in the same room is delightful.
This is a fun, frothy read that will definitely suit those who like their romance on the lighter end – four out of five cats!