I went to the library the other day to return some things and wandered about the aisles; some ten minutes later I realized I’d stacked a half dozen books up (despite there still being two waiting for me on my nightstand). No matter, four of them were romances and I’ve read three of them in as many days. First off is Courtney Milan’s Proof by Seduction. Funnily enough it’s one of two romances I checked out with Seduction in the title. It IS quite a word, isn’t it?
Proof by Seduction is the tale of Jenny Keeble, aka Madame Esmerelda, a lower-class fortune teller with no legitimate extra-sensory powers. One of her most frequent clients, Ned Carhart, is a delightful but sensitive and damaged young man with serious need of supportive friendship and guidance. He gets this from Jenny, but not from his domineering cousin Gareth Carhart, Lord Blakely. Gareth is your typical man of stone; emotion isn’t something he values. Science and reason are Gareth’s forte, so when he hears about Ned’s frequenting of a fortune teller he decides he must prove the woman a fraud and a cheat so that his cousin will finally see the truth about the woman in whom he has such faith.
It’s not a surprise here that as soon as he meets Mme E, Gareth is incredibly drawn to her, though he struggles to reconcile this with his burning desire to crush her and publicly refute all her skills. Out of thin air, she predicts that Blakely will meet the woman he will marry at an exact time at a ball the next evening. What follows are a series of challenges Jenny sets forth, both in order to buy time and to see if Gareth will rise to the occasion. Over the time of the book Gareth and Jenny find themselves more and more drawn to each other, and what’s left is for both of them to conquer their internal prejudices about love and relationships.
I enjoyed this book and the main characters separately. Together, they’re great as well, but sometimes it is hard to distance myself, a modern feminist woman, from what would have been normal behavior between the sexes during this time period, so I often found myself saying “Jenny, screw this, leave this asshole.” (If I failed to mention that, the book takes place in the 1800s in England.) Jenny is likeable, adventurous, and sees more in people than even she realizes. She often pinpoints what other characters are struggling with and calls them to account for it. Gareth’s lack of humanity, to her, isn’t a foregone conclusion. She recognizes what must have made him the way he is and encourages him (through her challenges) to make strides to change that. Gareth is a little more one-dimensional than Jenny; he basically is a man who suppressed the emotional, empathetic side of himself as a defense mechanism and bullies his way around the rest of life in order to escape emotional entanglements. He stubbornly clings to feelings of superiority throughout the novel, which makes him a little less appealing than our heroine here. Overall, theirs is a humorous and enjoyable courtship, and in the end, the heroine stands up for her wants and needs and everyone is happy, which is what we all want out of a paperback romance, isn’t it?