Friday, August 13, 2010

Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

Book Description:
Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon - to no one’'s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith's. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn't possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?
 Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won't rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister - —and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them - or their rekindling passion?

Another fab Sherry Thomas romance, but I'm afraid  this one didn't thrill me quite as much as her first two.  It was great, but it was darker than her previous two, plus the plot was difficult to follow because the story jumped around a lot, although that's not uncommon for her books.  But the kicker was, I had a hard time warming up to the heroine.

It's the story of a young Victorian couple, Bryony and Leo, who had once been married for a short period of time and then the marriage was annulled.  When we come into the story, it has been three years since their marriage dissolved in the year 1897.  Leo has come looking for his intrepid physician wife in the wilds of Northern India to bring her back to England because her father is dying.  With oblique flashbacks, we learn about what happened to their marriage and what went wrong while the two of them are dealing with each other in the present.  Is there still hope for their marriage and do they still love each other?  There is a lot we don't know about what caused their break up in the first place.  What went wrong with their marriage and what started it all?  It all gradually unfolds as the story develops and they deal with the crisis at hand of being in the middle of the Indian Mutiny in the Swat River Valley.   The descriptions were harrowing and in this sense it reminded me of another book, Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran that features another Indian Mutiny. Both great storytelling, but different in many ways.  

As I mentioned above, the plot was initially hard to follow because of the jumping around in time.  For the longest time we are not privy to why Bryony insisted on the annulment and her reasons for wanting nothing more to do with her husband.   Why did she marry him?  She was the one that proposed in the first place!  Bryony came across as cold and unfeeling which detracted from my giving this five stars.  She remains that way for the first half of the book, an enigma, and it was hard for me to really like her. Not until the second half does she finally warm up when the story pretty much stays in present time and the action heats up with the mutiny.  I found it hard to believe her adoring Leo loved her so madly and for so long when she treated him so coldly.  He was great, and I loved his character.  He was my favorite, I loved it how he wouldn't give up on them for the longest time.  I felt sorry for him that she dropped him shortly after their honeymoon with no reason. She was cold in bed, seeming to dislike making love. He was perplexed at her behavior, thinking he could change her,  almost like a beloved puppy dog that keeps coming back for more no matter how much it's maltreated.  In his early days, he's young and handsome.  Charming.  Three years later, he's weather worn, hardened and weary.  He's seen a lot and yet he still loves Bryony, trekking miles and miles to go to her.  When he learns the truth of what happened and why Bryony turned away from him shortly after their marriage, I felt just terrible for him. Poor Leo! What guilt he must have felt! I really cared for his feelings. 

As much as the book was a slight let down for me compared to her first two, I did love how they come together and love each other while in the middle of this nail biting rebellion, trapped in this fort, worried they may not make it out alive. They are living their days and nights together as if they are their last, making up for their lost three years. The lovemaking is passionate, sweet, tender and desperate at times, it was wonderful.  Sherry Thomas has a style to her writing that conveys much emotion without being overly graphic or explicit. 

I've already read two of her other books and simply loved, loved, loved them, I will definitely read anything Thomas writes, even if this one wasn't a home run for me. It was hard for me to get into the plot and figure out what was really happening and where it was going to go and whether I even liked Bryony or not.  Through much of it I needed to know what was her motivation. Thomas' first two books were unique and marvelous, though they too had intricate plots that were hard to follow at first, but at least I liked the heroines!  If there was one way to make Not Quite a Husband better, she could have made Bryony more likable.  I know, I know, we're supposed to be surprised at why Bryony is cold and implacable, but it took away from the story, for liking the heroine, in addition to the hero, is key to me. I just couldn't get around her until I found out what her problem was.  By the end, I loved them together and their married couple playfulness, surprising the rest of his family with this new and different Bryony.  I loved it how they're all so amazed the way they keep acting like this they've been married for years, as if there had never been an annulment!

As a rule, I love Thomas' plot lines, which are intricate, often with flashbacks about a poignant lost love and getting it back some years later. Thomas has strong heroines with minds of their own. They've made big mistakes in their pasts, but they don't waste time feeling sorry for themselves, they get on with their lives. The men who love them are usually the ones that suffer the most because of it. I'm more sympathetic with what they go through than her heroines.  These kind of plot lines make her happily ever after endings all the more blissful and worthwhile because the hero and heroine have both been through wringer.  If there's one thing I can say about Sherry Thomas' books, they all have strong finishes!

Overall I consider this book a winner, but I was spoiled by the greatness of her first two books.  In any case, Not Quite a Husband won the 2010 RITA award for Best Historical Romance and I congratulate Ms. Thomas on her win! 




Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

awesome review, julie!! i loved this one, but i do agree with what you said. i guess i just loved leo so much, the other stuff didn't bother me :) It reminded me SO much of duke of shadows as well. - Comment from Carrie at In the Hammock Blog

Sorry Carrie, I accidentally deleted your message! Grrr! Too blurry eyed this morning before my coffee!

I was probably a bit to hard on Bryony here, but I just remember wishing she'd just get over whatever it was and give Leo another chance! So happy she finally does, but then all that danger - aargh!

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

lol no problem!! and i don't think you were too hard on her!! i think it just made Leo look even better that he would put up with all of her crap and still love her so much!!! This one is on my keeper shelf :)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Carrie - everything by Sherry Thomas is on my keeper shelf! I have them on my kindle, so I can have them any time! :)

AnimeJune said...

Wow, we both loved this book but we had such different reactions to it!

Myself, and the way I grew up, made it so that I completely connected with Bryony. I never saw her as cold, but rather extremely introverted and emotionally self-sufficient. Learning her past, with her loneliness and how she compensated for that by burying herself in a world in her own mind is pretty much exactly what I did when I was bullied in high school. Yeah, it protected me, but it left me with stunted social skills and unsure of how to emotionally connect with other people.

I saw that in Bryony, and understood why she kept quiet about it - I mean, she was the nerdy barren spinster who for no reason she could discern, somehow captured the attention of sexy, younger, popular mathematician Leo. When she learns what he did, I completely understood the reaction and how it was borne out of complete and utter humiliation.

And while I did like Leo, I was a LOT less sympathetic when I learned what he did. Ballsy move on Sherry Thomas' part - a lot of people would have stopped reading once they learned what "poor, poor" Leo did.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

AnimeJune - yes, you're absolutely right, Briony did have all that baggage behind her, particularly losing her stepmother, yet because she was suppressed, it prevented me from warming up to her in the beginning, though I appreciated her predicament, I just sided with Leo in this one. Yes, poor Leo, mostly because he had been under the wrong impression for three years and to suddenly realize it was all his fault and how he had hurt Briony that way - well, yes, poor Leo because he had to live with that.

Thanks for your POV, for I had kind of conveniently forgotten about Briony's childhood and background and how it made her what she was.

Blodeuedd said...

I was a bit on the fence with this one..for one reason..sleepsex! it freaked me out

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Blodeuedd - that's right! I guess I just chose to gloss over that part in my review. :D

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