- Title: Not Quite a Husband
- Author: Sherry Thomas
- Published: May 2009
- Pages: 352 mass market paperback
- Standalone or series: Standalone, has a few characters from previous novel, but not the current, nor related to any prior, Heroes or Heroines.
- Source: Library romance section, recommended by many on my earlier post when another Sherry Thomas book caught my eye.
When KatiD commented on my post recommending this book I emailed her to expound upon my distaste of “estranged couple” romance stories. In a word? BO-RING! I never really liked them to begin with, and got a little burned out after I glommed so many of the Desperate Duchesses books by Eloisa James where almost all featured a married couple in a strained, separated, or all together faux marriage.
Hey Kati? You were right! I’m eating my words.
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?
I still don’t like that trope, but hooo boy did I love Not Quite a Husband! Sherry Thomas is an exquisite writer, her prose was so beautiful to me. I found myself rereading passages to cherish the imagery and elegance therein. Here is a passage that stood out to me as Leo and Bryony (LOVE her name!) are getting to know each other again as they travel through India:
“And you, how have you been?” he asked, as if it were an afterthought.
Outwardly, other than [the streak of white in] her hair, she had not changed much. She was still more or less the same cool, aloof woman who garnered more respect than affection. On the inside, however, it had been impossible to return to the person she used to be.
She’d been content. She had not wanted to marry. Nor had she much interest in the largely empty rituals of Society. Medicine was a demanding god and she a busy acolyte in its vast temple.
Then he had come into her life. And it was as if she’d been struck by lightning. Or a team of archeologists had dug up the familiar scenes of her mind to reveal a large, ancient warren of unmet hunger and frustrated hope.
Those types of turns of phrase where liberally sprinkled throughout the novel which is what really did it for me. The same deftness in writing was brought to characterizing both Leo and Bryony. With his childhood yearning for Bryony, his neighbor who he always admired since he was a toddler, his paternity issues, his mathematical genius, and his perception of Bryony’s coldness towards others, thinking she only cares for them in a clinical way to study from a doctor’s point of view. And with her few years of happiness as a child, brief memories before her joyful step-mother passed away, neglect from her father, her profession and personal disinterest in society separating her from others, upon meeting adult Leo her instantaneous infatuation growing to love so quickly that she proposed, hoping he would be the one to recapture the halcyon days she had last enjoyed only as a 6-year-old.
But Leo did a Very Bad Thing the week before they were to be married. He didn’t know that Bryony knew what he did, he didn’t know why the weeks of burning bliss during their engagement turned to cold ashes upon their marriage. And here, my friends, is where “estranged couple” stories get tricky. The REASON for the separation and change of heart has to be forgivable, but it has to be grave enough to warrant years of alienation. It’s a tough balance. The one I hate the most is The Big Mis. That misunderstanding that ANY teeny tiny communication could have fixed. But here we have a Very Bad Thing.
Was what Leo did forgivable? I think so, he explains his reasoning pretty well, and his guilt and repentance help make up for it too. Bryony is also given plenty of page time on her decision-making process to forgive or not, how she deals with this new information, how Leo respects her and reacts to her throughout the process worked as well. And of course they were put in a life or death situation in India, being chased by armed tribesman into a besieged British fort, sustaining injuries and fighting for days. So that certainly sped along their reconciliation.
What I appreciate most about this is both Leo and Bryony recognized that these external forces were influencing their relationship and knew they had more healing to do, and needed to continue to figure things out outside of that harrowing situation. It was very smart of them, and as a reader I was glad that the “oh noes we might die tomorrow!” wasn’t used as a plot device to make them live happily ever after right away.
I did wish that some threads were a bit more fleshed out, like Leo comes down with malarial fever, which has recurring symptoms that can occur at any time, but after his initial bout with it he seems cured. And Leo’s relationship with his father, god-father, and brothers I wanted to see more of. Also I would have loved to see some Bryony’s time at medical school and the reactions to her profession since it was still unusual for there to be women in medicine at that time. I don’t know if this is because I was enjoying the book so much and wanted more more more, or if these were issues that really should have been addressed.
I still am not a huge fan of separated couples finding love again because it has to be handled just right for me. Call me the Goldilocks of divorce romance novels I guess! But Sherry Thomas sure can write a fabulous book, so I’m looked forward to her 2010 release more than ever!
A- for me and highly recommended.