Book Review

Verity and the Forbidden Suitor by J.J. McAvoy

Verity and the Forbidden Suitor is not a stand alone book, y’all. I started reading and immediately flailed in a sea of characters that I might have cared about if I’d read the first book in the series. I was annoyed, but the book eventually settled down into an unabashedly romantic, and slightly gothic, story set in a racially mixed nobility reminiscent of Bridgerton.

Dr. Theodore Darrington is a brilliant doctor with little patience for the questionable medical practices of his day. He’s all about the herbal remedies, not about the leeches. Theodore is the estranged bastard son of a marquess, and has a tense relationship with the family who raised him after his mother died, a preachy Uncle and herbalist grandfather who both disapprove of Theodore’s decision to serve the nobility instead of working people. Theodore is proud and sometimes pedantic about his opinions, unafraid to lecture his patrons about the rights of women, or how they’re taking the wrong prescription. He is used to the slights he receives as a barely respectable member of wealthy society, and he rarely dwells on his illegitimate birth until he becomes infatuated with a beautiful woman far above his station, Lady Verity Eagleman.

Verity is the orphaned daughter of a Duke, recently arrived in London to enter the marriage market. Her newly married brother—his story is told in book one—is unhelpfully off on a honeymoon for the first half of the book, leaving her adrift. Their father and stepmother were emotionally abusive and Verity has nightly nightmares loud enough to wake the whole house up. Verity is an anxious and lonely person who starts the book ambivalent about being sent to live with the Du Bells, her brother’s new in-laws. The Du Bells are the kind of cheerful, content people that easily confound someone as uncertain as Verity. One thing is clear, they respect Theodore as her brother’s doctor, enjoy his intellectual company at social events, but do not consider him a realistic candidate for Verity.

Verity and Theodore have already met before the book opens, presumably in scenes detailed in the first book. I felt robbed of an opportunity to understand why they were into each other and it took several chapters before the relationship made sense to me. When Verity and Theodore finally meet again at a concert, they are instantly captivated by one another. Verity is so sheltered that she barely recognizes her attraction. She’s not sure why she can’t stop thinking about the grumpy doctor who barely spoke to her while he was busy saving her brother’s life.

Theodore has no such confusion. He’s besotted with Verity from the jump. When a convenient series of illnesses among the Du Bell’s social set throw Theodore and Verity together, again and again, Theodore struggles with inconvenient pants feelings. He can’t see her family allowing a courtship, but Verity doesn’t give him much choice, as she’s desperate to see him.

I didn’t mind the instalove but I was frustrated when at first, Theodore couldn’t come up with anything he liked about Verity beyond her looks. These are his first words in the book:

“From the very first moment I laid eyes on her, I knew Lady Verity Eagleman was simply, purely, rather unfairly the most stunning creature I had ever beheld, and the mere sight of her would forever enchant me.”

He continues in this vein through their first several interactions. Verity even calls him on it at one point, which he sidesteps by kissing her.

If you like virginal heroines who have a slow sexual awakening, you may enjoy Verity’s arc. Verity doesn’t know her own mind early in the courtship, because of both her naïveté and her fucked up family history that taught her needs weren’t important. It takes her ages to figure out that having emotions is a thing, and that the sensations she’s having means she likes Theodore. At first, I couldn’t decide if Verity was a charming virgin or a dingbat.

“Verity, I must ask you again what is it that brought you here—”


“I beg your pardon?”

She took a deep breath before repeating herself. “You. You being here brought me here, Theodore, as you have plagued my thoughts since … I do not know when. So I wished to see you. Though now that I have, I am unsure of what to say or do.”

She inhaled and it was as if she were stealing my breath from my body. I stared, uncertain if I were dreaming or losing my sanity. How had I ended up in this situation?

“I … You … Forgive me but can you be clearer with your thoughts?” I finally managed to say.

“I would if I could think clearly.” She smiled gently. “All I figured out is that I think I have come to like you as well, though I do not understand how, as we are barely acquainted. Is this normal?”

I laughed but it was like a breath of relief and a surge of joy as I looked into her brown eyes. My mind was a mess of things. “I am unsure of what normal is anymore.”

“That is unhelpful,” she said. “How am I to make sense of these feelings when no other has made me act this way or say as much as I am now?”

The book was extremely slow at the start, as Verity gets to know the Du Bells, and befriends their marriage-oriented daughter. But I’m glad I hung in there, because there’s a lot to like about Verity and the Forbidden Suitor once Verity and Theodore are given an opportunity to talk together more often. I was curious to see how they’d overcome the social obstacles to their marriage, and the book’s solution gave me warm fuzzy feelings. In the meantime, they have fun sneaking around. Verity is the one driving the relationship against Theodore’s reluctance. She proves to be skilled at lying to others which made her much more interesting to me. And Theodore provides solid and soppy pining, because he tries hard to stop liking Verity only to fail spectacularly within seconds of seeing her.

Once they eventually have more substantive conversations, I loved how the couple bonded over coming from dysfunctional families. They both admire but feel separate from happy families like the Du Bells. Theodore’s mother was a doctor who died by suicide after her lover married a wealthy gentlewoman. In a lot of ways, the emotional climax of the book isn’t Verity and Theodore finding a way to be together, but…

Show Spoiler

…Theodore reconciling with his father, who models accountability in a way that made me want to stand up and cheer. Verity’s family also has a lot of drama from book one resolved in the last quarter, but I honestly can’t explain to you what exactly went on because the book offers zero context.

But it all happens in a foreboding country estate, of course.

Verity and Theo repeatedly put off asking her brother for permission to marry, because the brother is embroiled in a series of violent disputes with their illegitimate elder brother, who apparently wants to kill the brother for reasons that I imagine were explained in book one, but remained a mystery to me. The evil stepmother reappears, there’s a mysterious kid, and Theo is somehow in the mix. Most of the conflict resolution happens entirely off page which made me wonder why it needed to happen at all.

The last part of the book ends at a gallop. People die, nefarious evildoers are punished, and I was EXTREMELY confused.

If you enjoy historical medicine like I do, Theodore may be your favorite character. What first hooked me into the book was Theodore solving a mild medical mystery after a rival doctor’s patients keep getting sicker. Could it be that being a member of the gentility doesn’t make Sir Rival Doctor Dude actually good at his job? I appreciated Theodore’s views of illness, which includes seeing mental illness as just as important as physical ailments. He’s able to reassure an embarrassed Verity that everyone needs help at some point. And while Verity’s nightmares improve with his support, they never go away completely through magic peen or some such nonsense. I also loved Theodore’s ambivalence about treating wealthy patrons when he prefers working with poor people.

This is a hard book to grade because while I found the main couple’s love story emotionally satisfying, the first half of the book had many boring conversations between Verity and the Du Bell family, mostly about husband hunting, that felt like unnecessary filler. And the second half had a buttload of confusing drama. I’m still not certain about the ending and how it worked. I probably would have enjoyed the book more if I was already invested in all these characters. But without a sense of their background, the Du Bells and Verity’s family felt like cardboard cutouts.

In order to test my theory, I just reread the first chapter, and the writing was much more enjoyable now that I knew who everyone was. But I still found my mind wandering during the various family chitchats about social expectations and husbands, because the dialogue didn’t grab me as much as I expected it to. And while I’m not a fan of naive and inexperienced heroines, I usually enjoy historicals with parlor chit chat or over-the-top plots more than I did here. That said, I definitely think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read book one prior to starting this one.

My troubles with Verity and the Forbidden Suitor might be partly my fault for reading a book clearly not meant to be a standalone. Readers who like tragic backstories, principled heroes who will do anything for love, and earnest heroines who feel out of step with society may like Verity and the Forbidden Suitor. But start with book one.

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Verity and the Forbidden Suitor by J.J. McAvoy

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  1. Karen D says:

    Alas, I had difficulty getting through book one so I’m not sure that’s the answer. I was really looking forward to that one, too, but it just fell flat, and I couldn’t get into it. Hopefully others enjoyed them more.

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