Seducing Mr. Knightly is the fourth and final book in Ms Rodale’s Writing Girls series, in which each of the four heroines are columnists for one of London’s foremost newspapers, The London Weekly.
Heroines 1-3 are now happily settled, so it’s the turn of number four, Miss Annabelle Swift, who pens the weekly advice column for the paper. She’s quiet and unassuming, wears ill-fitting, drab clothes, and resides with her brother and sour-mannered sister-in-law, who treats her as an unpaid servant.
While all the other Writing Girls certainly faced difficulties on their paths to true love, Annabelle’s is seemingly unnavigable. For the past three years, six months, three weeks, and two days, she has been hopelessly in love with Derek Knightly, the dashing, wickedly handsome owner and editor of the Weekly, a man who barely knows she exists.
After a bout of illness which laid her very low, she decides that perhaps it’s time to take control of her life and find a way to make Knightly notice her – but what should she do? So, instead of writing her usual column in which she answers questions and offers advice to readers, she asks a question of her own. How can she attract the attention of the man she’s loved from afar for years?
“Dear Annabelle’s search for love” suddenly becomes the talk of the town, much to Knightly’s astonishment. Even his regular coffee-house cronies, seasoned political hacks and critics are talking about little else – but he’s certainly not going to complain about something that’s increasing his readership, even if he finds the whole thing faintly ridiculous.
He carries on as usual, oblivious both to Annabelle and the identity of her beloved – until she starts taking some of the advice she receives, when he can no longer remain oblivious to the fact that there’s something worth looking at under those horribly shapeless, dull gowns.
While the story of “wallflower suffers unrequited love for gorgeous man she’s known for years” isn’t new, it’s rather refreshing to encounter an initially dowdy and unprepossessing character who determines to get out there and change her life rather than just submitting to fate and sitting in the shadows. And while it’s true that for the hero to suddenly notice the better dresses and nicer hairstyles when he’s never really noticed the person underneath doesn’t speak particularly well of him, Annabelle is savvy enough to know she’s got to start somewhere. And as Knightly – and others, including a handsome, young aristocrat – begin to take notice of her, Annabelle’s confidence grows, and she emerges from her shell. It’s that which ultimately captures Knightly’s attention – which is why I can live with the initial shallowness of his suddenly noticing she’s nice to look at.
The trouble is that no matter how attractive Knightly suddenly finds Annabelle to be, he has his sights set elsewhere. As the illegitimate son of an Earl who made his fortune by dint of his own hard work, he will never be truly accepted by the ton, which is something he has craved for years. His father openly acknowledged him and in fact spent just as much time with young Derek and his mother as he did with his “other”, aristocratic family, which naturally lead to much resentment on their part. When Derek was eighteen, his father died and his half-brother had him physically ejected from the funeral, something for which Knightly has never forgiven him. Ever since, he has been focused on forcing his brother and his brother’s world to accept him – and that ambition is now within his grasp. Lord Marsden, who is currently waging a war against newspapers and scandal sheets, will agree to leave the Weekly alone if Knightly will marry his sister, a young woman who has herself been the subject of much speculation and gossip due to an extended absence from town. Marrying Marsden’s sister will not only ensure Knightly’s entrée into high society, it will protect his business – but now the prospect of an alliance born of expediency is not such an attractive one – and certainly not as attractive as the prospect of an alliance born of something else entirely with Annabelle.
I enjoyed Seducing Mr Knightly much more than I did the first book in the series (A Groom of One’s Own). It’s warmer and funnier, the storytelling feels much more assured and the characterisation is more consistent. Annabelle never loses the essence of who she is, remaining kind, good-hearted and sometimes endearingly awkward, and while Knightly’s transformation from single-minded newspaper baron to a man who would risk all for love seems a little precipitous, he doesn’t undergo a major personality transplant, remaining dedicated to his work while admitting there’s been something missing in his life up until now.
Carolyn Morris has quickly become my preferred performer for light romantic comedy. Her narration is well-paced and she has a very attractive and naturalistic style of delivery that is a perfect complement to the material.
She has a terrific sense of comic timing, and a wonderful, dead-pan way of delivering the many ironic asides uttered by Annabelle throughout the story. Her Annabelle is appealingly vulnerable, but not without determination or courage, especially when she decides to put her heart on the line. Ms Morris voices her male characters attractively, by means of an alteration in tone without a much of a change in pitch. She injects a sense of forcefulness and purpose into Knightly’s voice by adding a slightly harder edge and a resonance which is satisfyingly authoritative, and adds a huskier note in the romantic scenes which works really well.
My one criticism here – as it was in the earlier audio in the series – is that it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the other three Writing Girls. They are distinct from Annabelle, but I sometimes needed to listen to the textual indicators to determine just who was speaking. Ms Morris has an excellent repertoire of “character” voices (for older men and women, servants etc.) and uses several to good effect, but doesn’t always find sufficient variety for the more important secondary characters.
But that’s a fairly small issue considering those characters don’t appear together in more than two or three scenes, and when set against the fact that Ms Morris’ performance is excellent in all other respects.
Book Content: B-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Tantor Audio