Friday, 24 August 2012

Forbidden by Nicola Cornick

Forbidden (2012)
Nicola Cornick
Grade: A-
Genre: historical romance
Sex scenes: hot
Source: NetGalley
Scandalous Women of the Ton: (4) Notorious, (6) Forbidden 

The Earl of Templemore has never given up hope that his granddaughter is still alive; when new evidence arises that Lady Marguerite Catherine Rose Saint-Pierre might be living right under their noses, he sends his godson and current heir to discover the truth. Lord Henry Wardeaux is guaranteed to become penniless if this girl is indeed Lady Marguerite (the Templemore estate being only one of a handful in England that can be inherited through the female line) but Henry involves himself in the investigations anyway and finds himself drawn like a moth to a flame.

Margery Mallon has no idea what is in store for her. She has grown up the daughter of a blacksmith with three elder brothers and is a lady’s maid in a respectable household with a great eye for the latest fashions. Margery’s dream is to open up her own confectionary shop baking and selling the sweets and desserts that she is such a dab hand at, but it will be a long time coming before she can save up the necessary funds.

Margery’s first encounter with Henry is in one of London’s most notorious brothels where he steals the most breathtaking and scorching kiss. Margery can’t get Henry out of her head and the memory of the effects his kiss has her blushing like a schoolgirl. When he reappears on her night off and takes her to dinner and a moonlight stroll, Margery dares to think that this dalliance may lead to something more permanent. When she discovers that Henry was only courting her to determine whether she is the girl he is looking for, she can’t wait to see the back of him. As if.

Margery is overwhelmed, to say the least, when she is suddenly plunged without warning into a life of riches and splendour beyond her wildest dreams. Her grandfather is beyond ecstatic to have her back in his life and she finds herself wanting to succeed in society to please him; she has much to learn if society is even to begin accepting her. Margery may not be happy to have Henry at her side, but he proves unfailingly loyal and determined to see her acknowledged by their peers, even though she has taken his chance to preside over a fortune. 

Not everyone is so pleased to see Margery flourishing in her rightful place. Firstly, there’s Lady Wardeaux, Henry’s mother, who is outraged to see a common working girl take her son’s place as heir to the Templemore estate. Henry now needs to marry an heiress to keep his own lands running smoothly and Lady Wardeaux finds herself torn between wanting to run a mile from Margery and envisioning her as her daughter-in-law. This exchange between Lady Wardeaux and Henry is brilliant; it reminds me a little of Violet in Downton Abbey:

"I knew this would happen!" Lady Wardeaux hissed in Henry's ear. "The gentlemen of the ton simply could not wait for Marguerite to return to London so they have come courting here. She will be wed in a trice! Henry, do something!"
            "I am not sure what you expect me to do," Henry said, "other than carry Lady Marguerite off."
            "Would you?" his mother asked hopefully.

There is another who wishes more serious harm to Margery. She had disappeared at four years old when travelling with her mother at night. It is only now that Margery learns that her mother was killed when their coach was ambushed and Margery kidnapped; it quickly becomes clear that someone is working to make sure that Margery’s memories of that night do not resurface so that she can implicate the killer …

Henry’s first marriage was an utter disaster. He was nineteen years old and fell for Isobel’s pretty face and innocent charms. She was anything but. Cuckolding him as soon as they were married, Isobel made Henry a laughing stock and was paid to leave him by the Earl of Templemore so that Henry might retain a shred of dignity. Henry is determined not to let himself be so easily led into marriage the second time; his second union will be for money and money alone, but his time spent with Margery leads him to believe that he might be in danger of repeating the past …

As Margery becomes more entrenched in her new life, the pressure is on for her to marry well. Unfortunately, the only man whom she is remotely prepared to marry is also the one whom she dislikes the most … Margery is still bitter towards Henry for hiding his identity and Henry has made no secret of the fact that a marriage to her would be primarily about her money. But as they get to know each other, both are drawn into a romance that neither expected and Henry must decide whether he is willing to risk a second marriage guided by his heart instead of his head, before it is too late …

I loved this book. It has a lot in common with Meredith Duran’s A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal, but IMO, Forbidden has the edge. It was sharper, funnier, the dialogue more smooth and altogether just a better book; pretty high up on my best books this year.

Ms Cornick did the predictable, anti-climatic climax very well. I guessed the perpetrator early on, though wasn’t completely sure, so was waiting on him to make his move and reveal himself. The predictable, anti-climatic climax was done better in Forbidden. For one thing, it was a single event rather than two separate ones, but also because I preferred the characters and story of Forbidden as a whole. Of course, it’s this type of extreme action that makes the hero realise is burning love and devotion to the heroine and Henry didn’t disappoint. He’s that type of hero who has already made a terrible first mistake at love and so has decided never to make that error again, yet does it anyway. It’s like the reformed rake trope: I love it.

I have a nagging feeling that part of my love for Henry stems from the fact that his name is Henry. Anyone who has been keeping up with my blog will realise that Once Upon a Time is my newest obsession; in it, the young boy is called Henry. He’s one of the cutest kids in a television show that I have ever seen and it helps that Henry Wardeaux is also a very cute (in a totally different way), very male and very attractive hero. His courtship of Margery is single-minded and he’ll do anything and everything to make her admit her desire. Chapter 11 … you'll never look at jewels the same way again …

If I thought that Ms Bolton was the mistress of sexual tension awesomeness in gothic thriller crime, Ms Cornick has written the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in historical romance. Considering that historical romance makes up a good fifty per cent of what I read (at least) that’s saying something. It was close to reaching the point where the actual sex might be a bit of an anti-climax considering all the foreplay we’d been subjected to, but Ms Cornick delivered and boy it was all the hotter for waiting. Henry is definitely a guy that you wouldn’t turn away: after their first kiss, Margery is left with

"her body quivering with a delicious foretaste of passion. She was not quite sure what it was she wanted, only that her body ached and trembled for him, and that the more she tried to ignore it the more those illicit, demanding sensations rose up in her to beg for fulfillment."

Henry, for all the experience he has garnered, is not left unaffected:

“Henry shifted uncomfortably, aware of his growing arousal. He could not get an erection in White's. There were some things that were simply unacceptable, frightfully bad form, and that would be one of them.”

These passages demonstrate the respective characters’ sexual longing in the most elegant and articulate of manners, which is one of the reasons that Ms Cornick does it so well. On the one hand, I was on the edge of my seat wanting more sexual tension awesomeness, while at the same time salivating over how beautifully Ms Cornick had put the words on the page: not too little and not too much. Really all I could ask for. Ms Cornick could give Ms Reisz a run for her money if they both wrote in the same sub-genre. Given my all-consuming love for anything and everything written by Tiffany Reisz, that’s saying something too.

I generally hold AAR as a pretty good authority for choosing what romance novels to read. Although the reviews are written by a huge range of reviewers, I find myself generally agreeing with the grade that they’ve awarded the book and the review itself. There have been a select few reviews that I have disagreed completely with, but these are few and far between. I admit that I haven’t read an AAR review for a while, but when I searched Nicola Cornick to see whether Forbidden had been reviewed, I found that (a) it hadn’t and (b) I was quite surprised by the low grades that she had been given for her other books because I had enjoyed this one so much. The thirteen books reviewed by AAR are a mixture of B’s and C’s with a single D. A ‘B’ review is quite a positive thing on AAR given that so few books make their precious DIK status, but I thought that Forbidden definitely deserved it. Maybe it’s just that Ms Cornick has got better. I’m definitely spurred on to read the previous books in the series to see whether my opinions match, though Forbidden itself was enough to spark on this interest itself. If and when Forbidden is reviewed on AAR, it will be interesting to see what grade it is given.

At times, the dialogue was brilliant. Margery is wonderfully feisty and Henry knows just how to match her sarcasm. At times, I had a hard time believing that they had only known each other a matter of weeks, their sparring and innuendo being so intimate. This is one of my favourite exchanges between Margery and Henry:
"Bryson keeps a stable of mistresses the way that most men keep a stable of horses," he said.
"I thought that was de rigueur in the ton," Margery said, her eyes mocking him over the top of the magazine. "I understand that you had an opera singer in keeping. Just the one, so I believe. Perhaps you do not have Lord Bryson's stamina?" 
Is it not beautiful? I love it when the hero and heroine dislike each other intensely, yet can’t keep their hands off each other. It makes their relationship that much more interesting and you know that their eventual union will be even more explosive as a result.

I had a hard time believing that Margery acclimated to her new lifestyle so quickly. I remember a single vague mention of Lady Wardeaux being around to teach Margery something or other, but at no point do we see Margery actually having lessons in dancing or walking or on the proper way of pouring tea.  Sure, she was a lady’s maid to several women in the ton and so is knowledgeable about fashion, but where did she learn everything else? If it’s one thing that let the book down, it was this.

Another thing that I was a little iffy about has to do with Margery’s behaviour concerning her relationship with Henry. For a woman who blurts out “I’m a virgin!” within minutes of meeting Henry, she sure knew how to match his sexual innuendo and tease him mercilessly once she steps up to her new status. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but I was just surprised at how much her sexual expertise was suddenly ramped up now that she was in a social position that matched Henry’s.

This is definitely a book that I would read again and again if I had the time and the chance. Margery is a lovely heroine and Henry the perfect romance hero. Their relationship is everything that a reader wants in a historical romance: slightly antagonistic, full of sexual tension, scorching with heat with an eventual happy ever after that has me jumping with joy. An all-round great read with a beautiful cover to match.

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.

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