The order in which I’m reading this universe comes directly from the FAQ section of Grace Burrowes’ website, which puts all four of the Jaded Gentlemen entries directly after the events of David. However, it appears as though the events in The Heir and The Soldier have taken place during the time period in which Matthew and Axel take place. So I’m actually going to step back from her official order and read the first two books in the Duke’s Obsession series next.
I liked this book but I think I liked it a little less than the two previous books in the series. The murder mystery is interesting until it’s not. The characters of Axel and Abigail are sweet, but not particularly interesting. The romance is well done, but since I’m not really all that interested in the characters, it has a little less resonance. This is largely a personal objection, and I’m sure other readers are going to like this book better than I did. Everything one loves about Grace Burrowes is here — the writing style, the characterization, etc. — it’s just not all that interesting to me.
The supporting characters are here, obviously ones we’ve already met in their own books or those that are going to be leads later. Nick Haddonfield shows up again, and while I still like him, I’m less convinced by his presence and friendship with Axel and Abigail than I was with David Worthington showing up in the first five books. I wonder if I would be more annoyed if I hadn’t read his book already and I know exactly why he’s stalling returning to London. He finally does so after this, but it’s still ten more books before I get to his entry. We’re not at Ian and Daniel Mackenzie levels of intrusion, but I’m glad I know for a fact that Nick disappears for a while.
We also get a heavy dose of Matthew, enjoying his marital bliss with Theresa, but other than that, there aren’t a lot of returning characters which makes this a unique book in a lot of ways. This is probably the first book since Gareth kicked off this strand of the timeline in which there aren’t three or more returning characters or future major leads.
The things I didn’t like about this book are a bit spoilery, so I’ll get into the details later, but they made the book drag a bit for me personally. Otherwise, it’s a well-written and constructed book that will probably work for like 80% of the world.
So the big thing I don’t like is the trope of bad first marriages. When we first met the Belmont brothers, we knew Matthew and Axel had both been widowed with children left to raise. Matthew’s bad marriage was part of his characterization and the plot — the fact that his wife had had a long-term affair with another man and that none of his children were his biologically told us something about his character. It worked there.
Abigail’s bad first marriage is also part of the plot. Gregory Stoneleigh is an out and out villain (and we never quite establish whether he was responsible for any of the deaths of her family members, but it’s heavily hinted that the fire that killed her parents was set by him.) His murder is what kicks everything off.
But Axel’s first marriage isn’t introduced to us at first as not being particularly happy. He’s written as a grieving widower who genuinely loved his wife and misses her. He talks eloquently about the grief he suffered. She was a good wife, a good mother, and the world is poorer for her absence.
But as the book continues, we start to get a different Caroline. A loud-mouthed bossy tyrant who embarrassed Axel to the point that Matthew’s wife disapproved of her (the adulterous woman who foisted three by-blows on her husband, mind you). Caroline begrudged Axel his one true love — his roses and botany projects and time in the conservatory. She talked too much and now he’s happy for the silence.
By the end of the book, we’re supposed to see Abigail as someone who truly understands Axel and his passion for botany, that she’s supportive in a way that Caroline never was. And I guess I just don’t understand why this has to be like this. Why can’t Axel have had a good, happy marriage? Why can’t Caroline have been a good match for him?
The more Caroline got denigrated through the book, the less I cared about the romance because now it was being written as a soulmate — Abigail is the one’s Axel has been waiting for. It’s a trope in romance I can do without.
A Note The order in which I’m reading this universe comes directly from the FAQ section of Grace Burrowes’ website, which puts all four of the Jaded Gentlemen entries directly after the events ...