Candice Hern – “Once A Gentleman”

22 Nov

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon Books, 2004

The back blurb:
“Nicholas Parrish had no intentions of taking a bride, and certainly not someone like Prudence. Of course, she’s charming, pleasant, and a diligent employee of The Ladies’ Fashionable Cabinet, the magazine Nicholas and his sister run from his home. Prudence may even be considered pretty, when you look past the mousy hair and dreadful glasses. But when she falls asleep at her desk and remains in his town house all night, her irate father demands satisfaction. And being a true gentleman, Nicholas agrees to do the proper thing. Though marrying Prudence never crossed his mind before, he has to admit there is an intriguing and desirable side to her he’s only just beginning to see. But Nicholas may need to reconsider his plans for a marriage “in-name-only” – especially now that Prue has decided to make herself totally irresistible.”

I like Plain-Jane stories. So is was all set to like this one.

Reading the back cover gives you a pretty good idea what to expect because we all know the drill and this story doesn’t deviate from it. There are
– the usual suspects (= secondary characters) – the well-meaning and all-knowing friends (“You’re perfect for each other”), not-so-well-meaning relatives, and a bunch of prostitutes working for the magazine,
– the usual (comic) situations,
– and the usual transformation of an unattractive woman into one who’s stunning (leave some of your accessories, do something with your hair, show bosom and confidence and you’re set).
This is nothing new, and there is nothing special about this one to distinguish it from all the other novels with a similar premise. What it has going for it is the smooth way it is written and that the main characters are likeable.

This “been there, done that” feeling of the story is coupled with a tendency to tell too much: after a scene where Hern shows how Pru is constantly overlooked by her own relatives there will inevitably be at least one paragraph in which Nick comments on this. And there are much instances for this. Then there are the scenes from Pru’s perspective which follow the same pattern. And then there are some situations for which we get the thoughts of both characters, at least without head-hopping.

I think that it’s these two things which kept me from getting involved in the story.

Prudence is rather convincingly portrayed as being shy, especially in social circumstances. She’s so shy that her own relatives tend to overlook her or even forget that she’s there. But Pru is used to that and takes it rather good-willed. It’s Nicholas who gets upset about this treatment of his wife.

Nick is a genuinely nice man and he wants to treat Pru accordingly. He decides to take things slow in the marriage to Pru and to wait until she is “ready” to consummate the marriage. This decision sets up the main conflict in this story. And it gives rise to some comic situations because Pru is ready from the start but she doesn’t know how to make this clear. The word “ready” plays a special role for all this.

Some smaller (in terms of attention paid to it) conflict arises because Nick has rather strong feelings about the aristocracy and because he’s proud. So it doesn’t help that Pru is the granddaughter of the Duke of Norwich and he suspects her relatives view him as a fortune hunter. Nick isn’t set against Pru for this but in the course of the story he has to come to terms with his pride and his views about aristocracy. Hern does make the final resolution satisfying. I think it is no coincidence that the pace of the story picked up after this conflict became more important near the end.

Some small nitpicking: Pru says on page 23: “I have no reputation. […] I’m nobody, Nicholas.” The marriage is off. Then one page later we learn that Pru’s father is a lord. And again on page later, on page 25, we learn that Pru is the granddaughter of the Duke of Norwich. No reputation? This made Pru look rather stupid for saying she has no reputation, even taking into account her shyness. Result of this? The marriage is on again and I had a rather unfavourable opinion of Pru’s intelligence.

Would I recommend this novel? Probably yes.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 3,5 / 5 (the 1/2 for the writing)


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