A Man Above Reproach by Evelyn Pryce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I intended to begin this review with the disclaimer that I am not a regular romance reader. However, a quick glance at my bookshelves, which contain the complete works of Jane Austen, every Nicholas Sparks novel, and two paranormal romance series has informed me otherwise. Therefore, consider this review to be from the perspective of a casual, not exclusive, reader of romance.
In her debut novel, A Man Above Reproach, Evelyn Pryce tells the tale of two headstrong individuals, the Duke of Lennox, Elias Addison, and Josephine Grant, who fall in love despite their differing social circumstances. The romance element is fun and appropriately steamy. Elias and Josephine have fantastic chemistry, as illustrated by their witty and playful banter, and the romantic scenes are tasteful, as the “historical” aspect dictates, but still spicy enough to satiate modern readers.
Beyond the main characters’ relationship, the reader can clearly tell that Pryce is an avid student of human nature. Each character has a unique and believable dynamic with every other character in the story, which makes the novel feel like a real snapshot into the lives of a social group. To put it plainly: the reader can easily believe that these people are friends, family, lovers, and enemies, because the dialogue and interactions are so well written.
As for the historical element of the novel, Pryce has clearly done her homework. The details of the world, including clothing, transportation, and politics, are all true to the time period. Likewise, the dialect and slang used by the characters nicely illustrate the time period and their social standings within it. However, Pryce shines most in her allusions to social/political events and persons within the time period. These are often “throw-away” lines that are written casually and could be overlooked, but are true gems when one realizes the historical meaning behind them.
While the dynamics of the characters and the historical details may be “above reproach,” I do take issue with the pacing of the novel. The novel moves quite quickly, which I do not mind in a romance novel. However, what I did not like is how problems would arise and then be solved incredibly quickly. Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment, but I enjoy when a problem is highly complex and takes a good portion of a novel to solve. For instance, I wish that Pryce would have taken more time to develop what was happening to the girls at The Sleeping Dove, perhaps even showing the reader a more direct view into the situation instead of just describing it through Josephine’s hints. I suppose it just felt a bit jumpy to me, to bounce from one problem to another with each ending before it truly became a huge obstacle for the characters.
In the vein of problems being solved easily, I also found the minor characters’ reactions to the protagonists’ follies to be a bit too convenient. Without giving spoilers, it seemed as if every time Elias or Josephine committed an action that would deserve reproach in this society, a minor character would surprise him/her (and the reader) by accepting and/or supporting the action. This particularly surprised me, given that the minor characters felt so well-developed and had such strong personalities of their own. In short, the minor characters seemed to just go along with the protagonists without fuss, which was brilliant for facilitating a happy ending, but did not feel authentic, given the time period and social environment.
In the end, I feel that easily-resolved problems and agreeable minor characters are forgivable. Why? Because they facilitate a happy ending, and as a reader, I want to be satisfied — and was. A Man Above Reproach is a fun read. I smiled, I laughed, I blushed, and I just plain enjoyed reading it.
I highly recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys history, romance, feminism, and comedy.
For a historian’s perspective on A Man Above Reproach, you can check out Daniel N. Gullotta’s review of the novel.
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