Of all literary genres, romance is the most personal. Readers seem to connect to books less on the basis of writing quality as to how the nature of the characters and their relationship pushes their own emotional buttons.
Keeping this in mind, Ravishing the Heiress is not my favorite Sherry Thomas novel because the nature of the character's relationship frustrated me. However, her writing is as lovely and as nuanced as ever and the portrayal of a slowly growing friendship that comes from a shared life is beautifully done.
When young heiress Millie meets Lord Fitzhugh, she falls madly in love at first sight. This should be convenient, because their families have arranged for them to marry – he desperately needs her money, and her family needs his title. Unfortunately for our leads, Fitzhugh is already in love with the relatively penniless Isabelle. The marriage breaks everyone's hearts as Fitzhugh is devastated by the loss of his true love, and Millie, realizing that he loves someone else, is determined not to let Fitz know that she loves him. They agree to spend eight years without consummating the marriage – during which time they develop a deep friendship even as Millie continues to hide her love for Fitz and Fitz continues to pine for Isabelle.
I appreciated the slow, quiet, contemplative nature of the romance. It was refreshing to see a relationship in which growth happens over the normal events of a marriage – loss of parents, home remodeling, growing a business. The only problem is that since there are no external obstacles to Millie and Fitz's relationship, they have only themselves to blame for their sorrows.
Millie and Fitz are both almost perfect people, allotted one flaw each. Millie is compassionate, tough, shrewd, and honorable, but she allows her sense of pride to turn her into a doormat. I could not believe that she would stay silent for so long about her feelings, to the point of openly discussing Fitz's affairs, which she sanctions, with him. Fitz is also kind, compassionate, and honorable, as well as loyal and appreciative. His flaw is cluelessness – he can't see how Millie feels for him or how he feels for Millie because he is trapped in wishes for the past. Their situation is supposed to be tragic but I just wanted to slap them a lot. After slapping them, I'd love to drink tea with them – they seem like very nice people. But some slapping is definitely in order.
Isabelle is a side character and she has her own story coming up in the anthology Midnight Scandals, ( A | BN | K | S) coming out in August 2012. I'm curious about her story, since I found her behavior and her character's resolution to be unrealistic but I can't elaborate without spoiling stuff. The final book in the trilogy, Tempting the Bride ( A | BN | K | S), will be out in October.
I suspect that everyone who reads the Fitzhugh trilogy will have a favorite book of the three. So far, I've enjoyed the lush and brainy Beguiling the Beauty ( A | BN | K | S) more than the quite, reflective Ravishing the Heiress, but both were beautifully written. I can't wait for the third book and I'm interested to see which of the books people like the most, and why.