Mistress to the Marquis by Margaret McPhee
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Mistress to the Marquis was a very absorbing, beautifully-written read. It honestly deals with a relationship between a titled gentleman and his mistress, who comes from very humble origins and has a very scandalous past. Initially Razelby embarked on his mistress arrangement with Alice as a sort of 'last hurrah' before he married and had his heir to meet a 30th birthday deadline that is proven to have a very pivotal effect in his psyche. He is slow to admit how deeply he loves Alice, even though on a heart level, he doesn't want to terminate their arrangement. He does so out of duty. It is time to marry. And he will just have to move on and forget her. But that proves difficult, even impossible in the end. On Alice's side, her feelings are not something she has the agency to dwell on. She doesn't have the power to demand anything more from Razelby, so when he ends it, she has to find a way to be happy in the future without him.
There are things I really appreciate about this book. I am not fond of the trivializing of sexual relationships in romance novels (or the media for that matter). I know that in real life that is how many view sex. However, sex is never as 'no strings' or as 'casual' as we try to make it. Both Alice and Razelby find this out the hard way. I liked that a great deal of this book is about the emotional consequences of ending their affair. While mentally, they have both agreed to move on, their hearts have not agreed, and are in fact in rebellion against their minds.
I was happy with the execution in this book. I appreciate that McPhee makes this book about something more than just illicit passion, which is what you might expect with the subject matter. Instead, she uses the page time to show more than just numerous sexual encounters between the couple that was supposed to be broken up. Instead, McPhee shows how their everyday lives have become intertwined and seeing each other is obligatory. I've always wondered how two people in the same circle who were sexually involved and then break up manage to get past that when they see each other every single day and can't rearrange their lives to not be around each other. That is the case with Alice and Razelby. It's difficult to be around each other without the emotions and the memories impressing on their minds. They both come to realize how important they were to each other in many ways. How their time together wasn't just sexual, but also a deep friendship that blossomed into a profound love affair. It's not so easy to erase that experience. They both come to realize that ignoring what the heart wants is not always possible.
I also appreciated how dimensional the characters were. Instead of Razelby coming off as a heartless rake who enjoys his pleasures without considering the consequences, he is actually a man of consideration, a good man. I mean, he didn't have to end his mistress arrangement, but could have gone ahead and got married. Many did that in reality. But something in him knew that wasn't fair to either his future wife or his mistress. Perhaps in the past he wasn't so considerate, but through his relationship with Alice, he really starts to see her not as a commodity, a piece of pretty flesh for his exclusive and convenient use, or someone that he can use and throw away. Razelby is forced to consider the ethics of the titled gentleman's debaucheries. One of his cronies makes a suggestion to visit a bawdy house and he cringes internally at the thought of how Alice was forced to pursue this profession for her survival. I don't think Razelby could ever see houses of prostitution the same way in the future. This reader can't abide prostitution and particularly hates when it's trivialized as a mere harmless thing. This false conception the idea of a man paying a woman (or vice versa) has no inherent ills associated with it. At the same time, Alice is viewed as a whole and lovable person, despite the fact that she has a past as a prostitute. Many women end up in that life, and there is nothing inherently bad or worthless about them just because they had to make that choice. Razelby is well aware of this past and doesn't think any less of her. It's fortunate that Alice was able to move on from her past and hope for a better future, which is not always the case with women who end up in prostitution, either in the past or now.
I also liked how McPhee shows the the daily life of a woman in the demimondaine. It was interesting to see the rules that they live by and how some of them actually travel in the same circles as the ton, even though they aren't accepted in some places.
At first, I didn't like that Razelby didn't consider marriage to her a viable option. But later, it's revealed that his reasons are as much about her well-being, knowing how hypocritical and cruel the ton particularly the women could be towards a woman with her past, even if she is married to a titled gentleman), as his own status in society.
Frankly, I hate the hypocrisy of this system in which men can act like complete dogs and women are held to a different standard. Women are forced into the sex trade and their world and options shrink and doors close to them because of that, but the men who pay for their services are free to do pretty much whatever they want. It was awkward for both Razelby and Alice to encounter acquaintances who knew them as a couple and now consider Alice fair game or not suitable to be acquainted with. In effect, while Razelby has the option to carry on as usual, Alice is put in the situation of dealing with the fallout of their separation and its effects on her own reputation and future prospects.
I have rambled on big time. I guess that's a good thing when a book gets you thinking so much. I found Mistress to a Marquis that kind of read--involving me in the story, enthralling me with a really good love story, and giving me a lot of issues to ponder. While this is not my favorite theme in romance, it was handled very well in this book, and it definitely a higher rating for that.
Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.
View all my reviews