Beguiling the Beauty is probably the weakest of all Sherry Thomas’ romance novels and I’ve read them all but one. But then Sherry Thomas at her worst is still better than 80-90% of historical romance out there.
Was she let down here by the premise? I am not quite sure. I’m certain any other writer would’ve written a terrible book with that premise, but Sherry still manages to pull it off. But then again, I have seen her pull off very successfully even crazier premises which in theory should have never worked (vide: His at Night).
Duke of Lexington is a scientist, and a Darwinist to that, so when he develops an obsession over Venetia Easterbrook based solely on her looks, he knows it’s just nature and evolution at play and he tries to shake it off, especially since he’s learnt through gossip some truly horrible things about Venetia.
Venetia, of course, is not terrible at all and she is absolutely traumatised when he basically publicly offends her during a lecture in America using her (without explicitly saying her name) as a convoluted example of how beautiful women get away with more morally dubious acts due to their superior evolutionary stance (or some such). Venetia is fuming and decides to have her revenge by making him fall in love with her and then breaking his heart (as you do). She is of course unaware that her job is pretty much done anyway because he has been nurturing a very unhealthy obsession over her for years. She decides to execute her plan while on a ship from New York to London but covers her face in a veil because, of course, why would she want to ruin her reputation even further?
Almost everything goes according to the plan, Duke of Lexington dutifully falls for the mysterious stranger, they have some sexy time in the dark, he never learns what her face looks like but gives her his heart anyway. Of course, to her own dismay Venetia falls in love too. Their passion and attraction is convincing and seems authentic but it doesn’t seem enough to be a deeper feeling. And this is what I expect from Sherry Thomas – the actual, real, deep love. She usually lets the characters know each other for a little longer and develop more substantial feelings.
Back in London, Duke of Lexington has a problem. He is in love with the elusive stranger from the ship, definitely he is. But, sadly, he can’t seem to shake off that absolutely ridiculous obsession with Venetia. Now, this is something I can empathise with. Many times I was sort of in love with some intelligent, funny guy who was definitely perfect for me, yet at the same time sexually obsessed with some dude from the gym with his square jaw and perfect abs. I would tell myself that the dude was probably illiterate and would be boring as hell and couldn’t enrich my life in any way but to no avail. Evolution is evolution. Of course, were I in a romance novel and as lucky as Duke of Lexington, these two men would somehow turn out to be the same person and I would be able to talk about postmodernism and drool over his abs all at the same time. Yeah, that’s yet to happen.
I really don’t know what exactly was so off about ‘Beguiling the Beauty’. The ingredients were all there, Sherry Thomas still can take the most tired old romance tropes and squeeze something original refreshing out of them and I was even going to pretend I enjoyed it more than I did - that’s how loyal I am to the author but if I am to be honest I was more interested in the teasers of the two following books that were dropped in between the chapters. It’s not that I couldn’t quite identify with the heroine, because who better than me knows what’s it like to be so beautiful that men just go bananas? (Ha, ha, yeah, ok).
There was something false about the characters’ emotions, something muted, it was like people talking underwater. The ending also didn’t have that strong, angsty, emotional zing to it I learnt to expect from Thomas. It sort of fizzled out.