The lovely, seventeen-year-old Miss Lili Martingale is out of place wherever she goes. Rescued from a convent by Cornelia and Beau Russell, she has been raised for the last four years on a farm. Now, it is clear that her beauty is turning too many heads and that she’s is not suited to farm life. On the double, Beau and Cornelia swoop in, take her back to their estate, and prepare her for an early come-out. Her age, extensive convent-education, her country ways, her ever-ready, thoughtless tongue, and her disregard for rank all stand in the way of her making a good match. Especially since the Russell’s neighbor, the Viscount Halpern, and his family suspect her to be an adventuress. The situation is made worse when vicious rumors about Lili’s parentage begin circulating around the ton.
Graeme, of course, takes an instant dislike to little Lili–one that is not helped by her harping on how very old he is (only twenty-eight, for God’s sake!). Plus, she is incredibly frank, piercing his ego. The first time he meets Lili near the border of his and Russell’s estate, she calls him a “Levite,” and the second time she gives him a thorough dressing-down. That is just not how a little nobody of dubious origin treats a future Marquis! Halpern is proud of his heritage, and therefore is quite ready to look down his nose at anyone who is beneath it.
But there is something beguiling about the little Lili, with her utter frankness and sweet face. He can’t believe she’s as young as his father insists. So–why not engage in a public flirtation in London? He’d have a bit of fun, and his consequence would only help to raise hers.
Of course, the expected happens: Halpern falls for Lili, so different than most of the other hopefuls of the Season. The problem is, she still thinks of him as an old man–almost a chaperone! Plus, his family is against the match. Worst of all, terrible rumors begin to circulate about the circumstances of her birth.
I like Barbara Hazard, and I enjoyed The Unsuitable Miss Martingale. However, one thing kept me from fully committing to the book: Lili’s age. She’s only seventeen, and Halpern is obsessed with how inappropriate his interest in such a young girl is. Yes, yes, I know–romances often have large gaps between the ages of the hero and heroine. It’s often ten or eleven years. But in those cases, the heroine is often at least nineteen, if not in her early twenties.
Lili is just too young. And Halpern is right. It is rather creepy that he’s so interested in her.
In terms of structure, Hazard’s book is good. Her dialogue is snappy, too, and Lili is a memorable character. Minor characters, such as Alva Potter, a merchant’s wealthy widow who aspires to be accepted in the ton, are vivid.
Some others–such as Beau and Cornelia–fade into the background. The Russells’ thinness is surprising to me, since this book is a sequel to Cornelia and Beau’s romance. I would have thought that–after devoting a whole book to them–Hazard would have kept her former protagonists fully-fleshed-out.
Aside from these caveats, The Unsuitable Miss Martingale is a good read. There’s no reason not to give it a try. Hazard is a good writer, even if there are some fundamental problems with this book.