My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Marrying Winterborne was the most anticipated sequel to Lisa Kleypas’s new historical romance series, The Ravenels. This new series has brought back this star of the Historical Romance on the spotlight after 6 long years. Yes, all of us LK fans have been waiting with bated breath for a new HR series from Ms. Kleypas, and when the wait was over, along with our gleeful celebration, we all heaved a sigh of relief.
Now the first book in the series, Cold-Hearted Rake, was more of an introduction to this series. It’s completely, with a set of new characters in it. Set in the Victorian-era, Cold-Hearted Rake talks about The Ravenel family, and it’s last two surviving male, brothers Devon and Weston. The Ravenels are a rowdy bunch who had always had a penchant for self-destruction. They live wild; always drawn to the adrenaline rush and the danger, never bothering to think about the consequences. And they die young too, which has come to be known as the “Ravenel curse”. Devon and West, both with the same bend on self-destruction by living a life fast and furious. They had no title or money to speak of, but Ravenels are Ravenels and they know how to live. Even then, Devon didn’t need or want a title hunched under a pile of debt and a dilapidating country estate. But when his titled cousin, the last direct heir to Lord Trenear, breaks his neck from a fall from horseback, he had no other choice. Not only he had several duties that came with the title, Devon found that he’s now responsible for Theo’s 3 younger sisters—Helen, and the twins Cassandra and Pandora. If that wasn’t the worse thing to deal with, he’s also now responsible for Theo’s widow, namely Kathleen, who was his bride for all of 3 days.
A disapproving Devon, coming to take stalk of what he’d “owned”, finds himself head-to-head with Kathleen, even though she’s a tiny thing of all of 5’. Kathleen hated Devon’s callousness on spot. She did not approve of the fact that West was a drunkard most of the days, when a young man of his age should pursue something worthwhile. Growing up virtually without her own family, Kathleen had learned that she wanted one of her own. Even though hers and Theo’s wasn’t a love affair by any means, Kathleen was hoping to finally have her heart’s wish. That didn’t come true, but she had a family nonetheless. Kathleen won’t let anything happen to his sisters, with whom she’d bonded over shared grief and loneliness. Now this man barges in, callously wanting to sell out what they deem their only shelter, the Ravenel House. Even though she knew she had no hope against the new Earl, Kathleen wasn’t going down without a fight!
Their regular pinch and jibes soon turn into something different. No matter what, Kathleen and Devon were attracted to each-other, which they couldn’t hide despite everything. And despite his total disinterest, Devon and West both found that they, indeed, had some purpose in life. It was to bring back the former glory of the Trenear title by working hard to make financial scopes to improve what has been disregarded for the last 2/3 generations. For me, I wasn’t much into Kathleen and Devon’s relationship as I found myself engrossed into Helen and Rhys’s. They pretty much stole the show the moment they met after Rhys’s accident; when Helen took care of him.
Rhys Winterborne, one of Devon’s friend and business associates, the big retail store Winterborne’s owner, accompanies him to the Ravenel House to meet Helen. Devon and Rhys had agreed on a business deal; Rhys, who is filthy rich, would finance several of Devon’s business ventures in exchange of Helen’s hand. He was low-born, the son of a Welsh storeowner and wanted to advance in the society. Marrying a Lady seemed like it. However, fate had a very different plan for them. There was a train accident, leaving Rhys and Devon both injured. Rhys had lost his eyesight temporarily, and found Helen to be his savior.
Though Cassandra and Pandora was a pair of vivacious teenagers, Helen was pretty cool and calm; the one with a rational head on her shoulders. Helen is reserved, shy...and spends time working on the orchid collection her deceased mother left them. However, with Rhys, she felt different. From the very first moment, there was this attraction to him that the unworldly Helen didn’t know how to explain. She, along with her sisters, spent all of their lives in the Ravenel House. They never even visited London. Theo couldn’t be bother with his sisters. Helen didn’t have much experience in love and lust and other, more complex human relationships. But she knew what she felt for Rhys Winterborne was as visceral as anything could be. It surprised her, more so when she found herself to be Rhys’s intense perusal when his sight returned which she liked. It seemed he felt the same, but in her inexperience and shyness, she made a blunder, which in turn, hurt Rhys making him considering to end the engagement.
TBH, here comes the reason why I didn’t enjoy Cold-Hearted Rake as much. Kathleen, who was a bit of a hypocrite in many things, nosed around Rhys and Helen’s relationship when her interference wasn’t wanted or needed. She made a hash of things by assuming what she didn’t know clearly, then by conveying her assumptions to Rhys and creating a bigger mess. I begin to dislike her immensely and wanted the book to end so I can start reading the next book.
Well, that wasn’t to be as I had to wait for the book to be out. I had to recap as Helen and Rhys’s relationship began from Cold-Hearted Rake. It pretty much picks up where it left off, so I’d recommend you read book 1 before diving into Marrying Winterborne, especially if you don’t wanna be surprised by the H and h having sex in the first few chapters so that no one can nay-say their match. ;)
I was honestly surprised by that development, but I understood why they decided on it, especially after the mess Kathleen made. And of course, Rhys was crazy for Helen, and couldn’t believe she had come to him on her own accord, to make amends. To reassure that she, indeed, wanted to become his wife, to explain that everything was a big misunderstanding. They move rather quickly from there I have to say, most especially in the lights of the fact that Helen was still a shy virgin and just had her second kiss from Rhys. :/ I’m still conflicted about Rhys compromising Helen; not because I thought it was wrong, but I was just............not ready for it. Yet.
But they can’t get married right away. Devon was already mad at Rhys for some stuff he said to Kathleen in book 1, so Helen knew trouble will begin when he’s made aware of the latest development. He and Kathleen just eloped and had a hasty married for reasons unavoidable. Oh ok, Kathleen became pregnant from their hasty, and short, affair before they found that they were in love with each-other. Anyhoo, it does create a tension between Devon and Rhys. Kathleen was trying to sway Helen once more from this match, drumming the same ‘he isn’t right for you’-crap, but this time Helen tells her that the “deed” has been done, plus she wouldn’t have changed her mind regardless. Thankfully, this time Kathleen bows down and lends her support to Helen. I always hated the way she acted as if Helen doesn’t have a mind of her own, can’t think and put her wises together so this was a rather big change on that account.
The book was going good, however there were things that bugged me. One was, even though Rhys wanted to be married right away, Helen forces him to wait to finish their mourning period (for Theo). Rhys though, manages to make a bargain out of it and made it a shorter waiting period. The other thing that bugged me was Helen herself. She seemed like a shy, reserved girl but I didn’t think she was this timid. Sadly I found that I don’t have that kinda liking or appreciation for shy, timid heroes as I once had. I guess my taste has changed over the years. She seemed too timid to Rhys’s hot intensity. I agree with some reviews who say Rhys needed someone with more vigor, more fire in her. Don’t get me wrong, Helen wasn’t bad heroine. But I discovered she wasn’t a very interesting one either.
As they wait for their wedding and prepare for it, trouble came calling in the form of someone who could ruin Helen’s happiness by revealing a secret; the consequences of Helen’s birth. She had her suspicions when her dying father told her to go away since she wasn’t “his”. That suspicion is finally confirmed, and Helen finds out why she doesn’t have the rowdy temperament or the striking good-looks of a Ravenel. At this point, even though I had already criticized her for being timid, I begin to understand the root cause of Helen’s reclusiveness. Her shyness, which is actually a defense mechanism. No child wants to be known as, let alone be treated like, the dirty secret of one of her parents; in this case her feckless mother who always had a mercurial mood. And she hated Helen, whom she deemed as the result of a failed affair. Helen had always been hidden away in the nursery, raised by her nanny and the housekeeper. She hadn’t known any motherly, or fatherly, love. Theo was the eldest, and he knew of it, which came out in his treatment of her. He was a callous and a very uncaring brother. So all in all, Helen has never known any kind of love, unless from the twins who still had no idea about it. Now she had Kathleen, Devon and West who cared for her.
But it wasn’t until she met Rhys that she begin to understand true affection, for Rhys never held back. He did everything he could to show her how much he appreciated her. Only now that Helen could put a face on the man who fathered her, she begins getting scared. Kind of accidentally, Helen finds a clue and later, is introduced to her “father” and wished she never knew him to begin with. Albion Vance was a vicious man; a shameless good-for-nothing. Seducing women was his hobby. And Rhys absolutely hated him because of what he’d done to someone close to him. Vance had always known of Helen’s existence much like 100s of his other bastards (I could only imagine) and never taken any interest in the “plain, shy” girl. But the moment he learned of her engagement to Rhys, he not only makes an appearance, he also, very unsubtly, begins blackmailing her. You see, Vance loved lavish lifestyle but had no means to finance it. He was always in debt. But with Rhys Winterborne as his son-in-law....oh he was dreaming away of a lifetime of lavish comfort!
Unfortunately, Helen dumps a bucket of cold water on his daydreams by telling Vance she’d never help him achieve his goal. Because they both knew of Rhys’s dislike of the man in question, Vance thought he could use this as the leverage. But Helen had other plans. She would tell Rhys everything, including Vance’s despicable plot, knowing she’d certainly lose him if she does. And she’s going to save her little half-sister who was born to a woman Rhys used to know, who was seduced and discarded by Vance, later died in childbirth. Vance had obviously washed his hands off the child but Helen couldn’t forget her for a minute. She had nightmares thinking where the child was, and how she was surviving… if she was still alive. I LOVED that despite the consequences that Helen knew would surely follow, she steps up and requests help of another interesting secondary character, a female doctor called Garrett Gibson (not very fond of a manly name on a female but oh well…). She was currently working for Rhys as a resident doctor for the Winterborne. I really liked this honest, and brave, girl who didn’t even bat an eyelash at Helen’s desperate pleas for help. Garrett knew many places in London since she had patients everywhere, as she knew of the rookery where that orphanage sat; where Charity was last seen. Helen had to find out, and take her sister away because no one knew the pain of a life devoid of affection better than Helen. No one knew the feeling of abandonment better, where you feel, no, you KNOW no one wants you. She wouldn’t have Charity feel that way if she could help it, even if it means leaving London to some faraway place to raise her, to hide away from her family and break up with Rhys.
Helen had no practical idea on what she would’ve doneHelen had no practical idea on but the moment she saw Charity, with the same hair and eye-color, who started calling her “mamma” and clung to her like she’s the beacon of all of her hopes, she knew the course of her life has changed irrevocably. She would do anything to save her sister and raise her as her own if it comes down to that. Helen’s only regret would be she’d have to give up a life with Rhys to make it happen.
While Cassandra and Pandora take the truth in quite easily and adopts Charity as their own sister soon enough, their chaperone, Lady Berwick wasn’t so kind about it. She was a too practical woman, also related to Vance by marriage and thought Helen is ruining her “big chance” for a bastard brat. So she did what she thought was the “right thing to do”. She called Vance to take the child away before Rhys knew of its existence. Helen, despite several half-hearted attempts, cowed out of confessing to Rhys about the truth of her birth; the fact that he isn’t marrying into the nobility after all, and about Charity. But she backed off too many times, even trying her best to distract Rhys when he got too inquisitive about her sullen mood. Frankly, I didn’t like it all that much. I thought it would’ve been better if she told him the truth because no matter, Rhys, to me, seemed like a very reasonable man. After all, he didn’t get to that height of success without being pragmatic. And he proved his deepest regard for Helen so many times, it was surprising that Helen didn’t trust him enough to confide in him. *sigh* He had to find out from his own investigations (of course he was a step ahead of her LOL). From a third party. He does confront Helen about it later. And I tell you, he was superb in handling the whole situation, exactly what I was expecting from Rhys. Exactly how I hoped he would see and understand her situation, which he did, and his regard for Helen didn’t go down one bit! It was quite apparent that Helen was going nowhere. ;)
So all in all, I can’t say I was happy with Helen’s timidity and her decisions but I tried to understand them. TBH it did ruin my fun to some extent. I thought Rhys was absolutely marvelous to her and deserved more trust than this. It was frustrating because I kept hoping she’d confide in Rhys............ *sigh*
Now here is the thing. If you follow LK’s page, you are already aware of the next book, Devil in Spring (sounds familiar, hmmm? ;) It should!). I thought this was going to be Cassandra’s book but surprise! It’s Pandora’s!! I also had a different idea for Pandora’s match, and even though I know that’s not going to happen, I can’t wait to find out! Pandora is different than Cassandra is many ways. And she wants to be an inventor and remain a spinster... would that it could be so easy with Gabriel St. Vincent around her. :P
4 stars for Marrying Winterborne. I wish I could’ve rated it better, but I still think I would’ve enjoyed more if Helen was a bit more fiery, a bit more lively... a bit more trusting towards Rhys’s capabilities. I absolutely adored that man!