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Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Beguiling the Beauty
Fitzhugh Trilogy #1

Sherry Thomas
Historical Romance
Published in 2012

H/h - Christian de Montfort, the Duke of Lexington/Venetia Fitzhugh Townsend Easterbrook
Setting: Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, 1896.

Read in May, 2012.
My rating:

                                                                [spoiler alert]

I’ve been waiting for this series to come out since last year when I discovered ST and her wonderful novels. Her books were winners, the wait was kind of impatient but finally, Fitzhugh Trilogy is here... at least Beguiling the Beauty. Now, was the book worth the wait? Storywise, it wasn’t my favorite. Honestly, if this book wasn’t ST’s, I would rate it lower. But her writing is so beautiful, with such thought provoking prose, hell, she can make anything sound beautiful I guess and hold my attentions throughout. Overall, even with its ups and downs and some really frustrating moments, I thought this book was worth the wait.

Before I get into my review, I’d like to mention first that the scientific terms used in this book confused the hell outta me. Though I love science, I’m no genius and have a wee brain. The only thing I really googled was Cetiosaurus because... you’ll know ‘why’ in the review. I’ll very politely ignore those terms, hence I mix things up and confuse you. But one thing was clear; ST did her research well and truly good!

Christian, the Duke of Lexington, isn’t an ordinary duke. He’s a genius on his own right, has been since he was but a boy. He is the only son and heir, very studious, always going away to look for fossils in various parts of his estate and very very unlike his womanizing, selfish, fickle father, the late duke. So, his father never approved of this works. Christian’s mother died young. His stepmother, only a couple of years older than him, has been very good to him and one of the very few of his genuine friends. Christian grew up and went to become this famous scholar and gives lectures in different places of the world on his papers. His life has been planned from birth, though he’s chosen his own way, Christian would do his duty to marry and have an heir. Unlike many other peers of the Victorian era England, the Lexington dukedom is doing great, much its thanks goes to Christian, who has also taken care of his tenants. But on a sunny morning 10yrs ago, a part of his life changed irrevocably; the day he gazed upon the goddess like beauty of Venetia Fitzhugh Townsend. He didn’t know she was married, until someone told him. He was young, about 19 and he guessed so was she. Christian was transfixed and began obsessing over her. It was there for about 3 yrs, until the day he actually met Venetia’s first husband, Townsend, who spewed some negative remarks about her apparent greed and vanity. Even though Christian didn’t like her (yes, he judged her from Townsend’s words), Christian was still well and truly obsessed. It worsened when Townsend died only a few days later. There were negative rumors about Venetia and murder. Then she married an elderly man thrice her age in a few months and rumors of her blatant affair with Easterbrook’s close friend followed, leaving Christian with no illusion of her character. Christian berated himself over his obsession, and as years pass by, he even wrote a paper on the fickleness of beauty (something to do with beauty and it’s evolutionary significance), mainly to console himself that she’s not worth it. And yet, he could never get over her. It’s not the he saw her every day, in fact, Christian saw her only a handful of times over the last 10 yrs. Venetia was one of society’s most acknowledged beauties but her circle and Christian’s nerdy circle didn’t really go together. And, it’s not that Christian doesn’t have lovers. He has, although mostly short term flings, no strings attached. Even so, she is stuck on his mind. Her being married doesn’t prevent Christian from fantasizing about her often and making loved in every way possible. Now, to me, it did seem kinda shallow and disturbing at first... Christian’s falling for a beauty like Venetia seemed so obvious that I didn’t know what to think. But the more I read, the more baffled I became and it wasn’t only about Christian’s obsession over Venetia.

Venetia married Townsend young because she thought he was a nice guy and she still had her dreams about a love marriage. She thought she loved her and vice versa but in two years, Venetia learned about the true face of her husband. All I could get that he was self-obsessed and a coward. He was also a cheater who slept with the maids of his house from time to time. And when Venetia failed to conceive, he blamed her for it. He was very rude to her, his words barbs as they fell. It pained Venetia but she knew there’s no way she can make him understand anything. Townsend came to resent Venetia so much, that he even tormented her from his grave. When he died, he left Venetia full of debts and she had to marry Easterbrook, a good man who was secretly gay, to survive. It was a marriage blanc but Venetia was a good wife in other ways, as the mistress of his house. She understood Easterbrook’s need for secrecy about his affair with his friend. Venetia, in gratitude for all his kindness, acted as if was her who was having the affair. It ruined her good name, along with Townsend’s own negative remarks about her. It was apparent that Venetia, being the Great Beauty, took all these in stride. And she had NO IDEA about Christian’s obsession over her. Men, it seems, always stutter and sputter when she’s near as if they can’t contain the aura she leaves behind. Venetia is also a scholarly type, not so common in her time. She loves Dinosaurs and fossils and actually discovered the fossil of a Cetiosaurus when she was about 16, just before she married Townsend. Needless to say, even though her find went to the Museum of Natural History, neither her family nor Townsend encouraged her to carry on with her passion. But all over the book, it was apparent that she’s well-read and attends lectures of such stuff, along with the Museum itself.

Now, I have to talk about her siblings, whom we already know are getting the next books in the series. This book sets us up for those, giving us a glimpse of their lives. Venetia’s sister Helena was how Venetia came to meet Christian at present. Helena is having an affair with a married man. This man, Andrew, had courted Helena once upon a time but went on to marry someone his mother wanted to. A momma’s boy, he was. He’s a coward and it’s very much apparent that using Helena to get his books published. Helena runs a successful publishing house and has her own money from some inheritance, which makes her independent. I could only think how stupid she is, trusting a spineless man but she thinks (with me snorting) that her relationship with Andrew is ‘sacrosanct’, no one would ever come between them. Oh really? You’re helping the man to cheat on his wife, what’s so ‘sacrosanct’ about it? Also, he’s married FGS, how is it that no one would ever come between you two? She was supposed to be this smart, independent girl but I saw only a TSTL who needs to learn her lessons. Yes, I’m not fond of her. But, hold on there... I totally loved her banters with this rake, Hastings, who’s their brother Fitz’s childhood friend and Helena knew him as a child. Hastings has been secretly in love with Helena for years but she can’t stand him. I’m impatient for their book only because of Hastings.

Then comes Fitz, the Earl, who married very young (around 19), to a younger heiress, Millie, to save his properties from debts. It was all ‘duty’ to him. The marriage was never consummated due to Millie’s young age, with a wait for 8 yrs (I have no idea why would they have to wait for 8 freakin’ years), also only to beget an heir. And of course, Fitz wouldn’t live celibate for Millie to come of age and miss his proverbial ‘sowing of wild oats’. So technically, he’s been cheating on her ever since, with various other lose, married women of the Ton. Also, Fitz has a childhood sweetheart, who’s married. Millie knows about all these but she thinks they have a great friendship together, forged with duty. My arse!!! It was plain from their interactions that Millie is head over heels for her husband, though Fitz doesn’t even see her at all, let alone what a smart and strong woman she is. She is hurt but she won’t let him know. Well, Fitz is a callous jerk, I don’t give a f*ck about his ‘responsible, dutiful’ self. Then, Millie isn’t the most beautiful woman. It’s described that she’s ‘too brown’ which inadvertently equals to being ‘plain’. I mean, I don’t know, I hated Fitz. But what shocked me most was in one scene, Millie and he discussing about his latest slut, with whom he broke up and Mille actually recommending him another one. OMG, that scene left a bitter taste in my mouth and now, I’m kinda dreading reading this book. Later comes the news that Fitz’s sweetheart is a new widow and is coming back to England from India. Can’t wait to see how this mess ends!

Anyway, Venetia and Millie take Helena to America to ‘technically’ take her mind off of Andrew. Her family knows about her affair, thanks to Hastings who spied on her at night in some country house-party. Helena is mad at Hastings because of this but no one mentions about her affair on her face. Here, they attend one of Christian’s lectures, with the hopes (from Venetia) that the rich and scholarly duke will make some impression on Helena, who is also fond of the academia. Venetia tries to make Helena take note of Christian by telling her about her own interest on him. But, after hearing his lectures, Venetia is quite interested in him herself. They discover that the duke is handsome enough and not as old as they thought he’d be. In the question/answer session, the topic of beauty comes up and Christian has only one person on his mind, even though he doesn’t hold her in affection. And against his better judgment, he imparts information about Venetia on impulse. He makes the mistake of thinking that by keeping her identity secret it would be ok, that these Americans can’t really know about her. But Venetia was there and you can guess, she feels humiliated, even though Christian’s words were based on rumors and a lot of those she herself spread to save her husbands’ arses. I was pissed to see her resentment. Then, Helena gives her the idea of taking ‘revenge’ on Christian by having an affair. And she listens to Helena, who’s not really known for sound judgment herself? *shakes her head*

Half of the book then was spend on Christian and Venetia’s affair, not my favorite type of reading, worse, because it was mired with deception of the worst kind. Venetia follows Christian and then learns that he’s leaving America in a ship called Rhodesia. She also books a pass there. They already met at the hotel where he was staying, but Venetia was veiled so Christian doesn’t recognize her. Venetia, it seems, is very efficient with various languages so she speaks German and takes the name of some Baroness Whatever-I-Can’t-Spell-Or-Pronuonce-That-Name. Even then, Christian felt this pull towards her (so did she), which led to the offer of an affair in Rhodesia. She was still veiled but Christian didn’t mind. It was so totally unbelievable and weird that throughout the affair, Christian never sees her face, let alone her name, has sex in his darkened room to abide by her request to keep her identity a secret. I don’t know why he didn’t demand it. He even kisses her through the veil when they were outside (and making me roll my eyes more than once), eschewing the prying eyes of the other passengers, flaunting their affair. But that was the outer side of the whole mess. When they were together, they shared a very good bonding, talking to each-other about things, when they weren’t making out as bunnies that is. lol Venetia wasn’t sure if she could actually go through this, but she does and in a few days, she finds out that Christian isn’t what she thought of him. The more she learns about him, the more she falls hard and realizes the mess she has created. Christian bares his soul, which includes his strange obsession over one Mrs. Easterbrook (imagine Venetia’s shock!), to his Baroness who he starts calling ‘My Darling’ (Mein Liebling as they communicated in German the whole time) as she still won’t give him her name. Now, honestly, if this wasn’t done with this veil of deception (pardon but no pun intended), I would totally love their communication as it was obvious that they connect extremely well on a deeper level. Venetia also tells him about some of her life-story but obviously not all of it. Christian falls hard too and pretty sure he’d do anything to keep her in his life, even marry her for that matter. He truly believes that the strange spell of Mrs. Easterbrook has finally broken and he has found his soul mate. Oh you have no idea how much I was dreading the later part of the book and felt sorry for him because his adoration of the Baroness was genuine.

When Venetia learns of Christian’s obsession over her, she decides this has gone too far. She has also fallen in love with him but she takes out the cowardly way of retreat. Then Christian proposes to her. It is then that Venetia is determined never to see him again. As she leaves early, Christian panics but he’s sure that he’ll see her in London (he doesn’t, for once, think that she’d betray him... poor babe). He coaxes out promise from her that she’ll attend his birthday celebration a few weeks from now. She’ll bring some memento of him so that he can recognize her without the veil. Christian is determined to announce his engagement on that day and he plans the whole thing that way. But of course, Venetia had no intention of facing him and so, she makes the false promise. She goes, heartsick, to London, doesn’t say anything to her family about this affair when Helena and Millie inquire. Christian is heartsick too, but because he can’t stand these few days apart from his Baroness. He writes some wonderful wonderful one-sided letters to her, which Venetia never gets to read (pity, that!); those were just oozing desperation and longing... I had no doubt in my mind that he’s in love with her. Those letters were pretty simple yet that beautiful! But the fact that she’d betray him struck me harder. I mean, I thought that on his birthday celebration she’d finally show some courage and fess up. But, my God, the b*tch humiliates him by not showing up (though she followed him many times here and there on some unmarked carriage). Even though Christian rarely throws a party, if any, he took utmost care for this one and chose everything himself; from the décor to the menu itself, so that his Baroness doesn’t find anything lacking. This whole scene was so heartbreaking, I couldn’t help crying. How his hope came down crashing, his denial and then the dawning understanding that this really meant nothing to the Baroness while it meant everything to him and finally, the anger. He leaves the place in desolation. His stepmother, now happily married to someone she loves, is really concerned. She was a wonderful character, who truly cared for Christian.

I don’t really know how to comment about Venetia because I was mad at her, yet I understood her position. She did try to communicate with Christian as ‘Mrs. Easterbrook’ a few times but it never worked as he still resented Mrs. Easterbrook. She understood that if he finds out the depth of her treachery, he’d definitely kill her, if not despise her for the rest of his life. The thought scared the hell outta her. I could feel Venetia’s dilemma. She realizes that she should’ve fessed up when she knew she has fallen for him in Rhodesia but it was too late now. Soon enough, fate plays its part and Venetia finds out she’s pregnant. She never took precautions with Christian thinking she’s barren. Thankfully even though she considered finding someone to marry, finally she took the courage to let Christian know about it. But Christian wasn’t sitting still. He makes some investigations to find out about this treacherous woman. Some really important information came from one of the stewardesses of Rhodesia, who worked as the lady’s maid to the Baroness. Christian also makes inquiries in the Museum, as Venetia, sort of blurted out about the fossil she unearthed, though she altered the name of the species to Swabian dragon. One of her meeting as Mrs. Easterbrook to Christian in the Museum pays off when Christian connects all the dots and figures out the truth. He cringes every time he realizes who it was and how he has bared his soul to this woman. So, when Venetia is there to see him and speaks outright about the baby, she is surprised to find that Christian is not surprised at all and she realizes that he knows.

Afterwards, Christian acts cold to Venetia, while she acts as the Great Beauty, who cares none of it. But inside, both are hurting and not happy about the way this union has began. It was kinda weird to read through this last part of the book, them acting as strangers. One night, Venetia opens up about her marriages to Christian. Anyway, in the end, it was sweet when both grasp the depth of the misunderstanding and forgives each-other. I was kinda happy to see them together at last. But that part about two gossipmongers of the society coming to blackmail Christian was kinda odd and didn’t fit in IMO. There was no epilogue but it didn’t bother me much. 4.25 stars.

Now, I have, indeed noticed the recurring characters from ST’s previous novels, which was fun! Can’t help point those out:

1. Lord Wrenworth (mention) was Gigi, the h of Private Arrangements’s onetime lover. It is in his house-party where Hastings sees Helena sneaking out at night.

2. Lord and Lady Tremaine (mention and appearance as close acquaintances of the Fitzhugh Family) are Camden and Gigi , H/h of Private Arrangements.

3. Leo Marsden (mention) is the H of Not Quite a Husband. He, it seems, is one of Fitz’s friends as he reads a letter from Leo in one scene. This story takes place before Not Quite a Husband.

4. Spencer aka Penny, Lord Vere (appearance) is the H of His at Night. He is a neighbor to Fitz. Hastings talks to him while walking in the garden with Helena. Like many other reviewers, I was also baffled about him still keeping his dimwitted façade, which was supposed to have been ‘miraculously healed’ after he married Elisande. Here, he was already married, so..... hmm.

I can’t remember if anyone was there from Delicious though, so that’s about it I think.

Favorite Quote(s):
The explanation for her absence had been staring him in the face all the while, but he hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it: The affair meant nothing to her. He’d been the only one bewitched body and soul. For her, he’d been but a temporary source of entertainment, a way to pass the otherwise tedious hours in the middle of an ocean.
He’d been the one to press for a continuation of their affair beyond the voyage. He’d been the one to offer his heart, his hand, his every last secret. She never even gave her real name.
And, of course, never showed her face.
For the next three seconds, he still dared to let himself hope.
Perhaps she was making a grand entrance. Perhaps she would be carried in like Cleopatra, hidden in a roll of fine carpet.
Perhaps—
Three porters, grunting, pulled in a handcart.
A crevasse opened before him and in fell his heart. No need to remove the tarpaulin wrapping. He recognized the stone slab
by its size and weight.
She had returned his present. She would have nothing more to do with him.
Excerpt of one of those one-sided letters from Christian:
“...So far I have restrained myself. For how much longer, I do not know.
I have never known such happiness, shot through with such misery. Only four days have passed, they tell me. But that is not true. It has been decades since I saw you last.
You will find me a stooped old man when we meet again. Perhaps I might even need a pair of spectacles to recognize your veil.
But I remain always,
Your servant,
C.” 
 This last one is one of the interactions of Hastings and Helena:
 “Do you think I should be paying my addresses to Mrs. Martin, my dear Miss Fitzhugh?” he whispered. “Martin doesn’t look the sort to have enough stamina to service two women. And goodness knows you could probably exhaust Casanova himself.”
Again this insinuation that she must be a sufferer of nymphomania. Behind her fan, she put her lips very close to his ear. “You’ve no idea, my Lord Hastings, the heated yearnings that singe me at night, when I cannot have a man. My skin burns to be touched, my lips kissed, and my entire body passionately fondled.”
Hastings was mute, for once. He stared at her with something halfway between amusement and arousal.
She snapped shut her fan and rapped his fingers as hard as she could, watching with great satisfaction as he choked back a yelp of pain.
“By anyone but you,” she said, and turned on her heels.

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I'm a simple girl. I love to read in my spare time and do reviews the books I read. I also write, mostly songs/poems, though I'm not published. I love music and traveling. Sometimes, I wish I could live inside a book, having my own HEA. :)
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