Title: To Marry and To Meddle (The Regency Vows, #3)
Author: Martha Waters
Publication date: April 5, 2022
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
The “sweet, sexy, and utterly fun” (Emily Henry, author of The People We Meet on Vacation) Regency Vows series continues with a witty, charming, and joyful novel following a seasoned debutante and a rakish theater owner as they navigate a complicated marriage of convenience.
Lady Emily Turner has been a debutante for six seasons now and should have long settled into a suitable marriage. However, due to her father’s large debts, her only suitor is the persistent and odious owner of her father’s favorite gambling house. Meanwhile, Lord Julian Belfry, the second son of a marquess, has scandalized society as an actor and owner of a theater—the kind of establishment where men take their mistresses, but not their wives. When their lives intersect at a house party, Lord Julian hatches a plan to benefit them both.
With a marriage of convenience, Emily will use her society connections to promote the theater to a more respectable clientele and Julian will take her out from under the shadows of her father’s unsavory associates. But they soon realize they have very different plans for their marriage—Julian wants Emily to remain a society wife, while Emily discovers an interest in the theater. But when a fleeing actress, murderous kitten, and meddlesome friends enter the fray, Emily and Julian will have to confront the fact that their marriage of convenience comes with rather inconvenient feelings.
The Regency Vows series is a fun, fresh look at love and friendship in (obviously) the Regency era. The books focus on a trio of friends, Violet (lead character of the first book, To Have and To Hoax), Diana (starring in To Love and To Loathe), and Emily, the main character of this 3rd book, To Marry and To Meddle.
Lady Emily Turner is the perfectly mannered daughter of a respectable society family. At age 23, she is unmarried, largely because her parents have promised her to an awful man to whom the family is ruinously in debt. She’s desperately unhappy, but would never dream of disobeying her parents… until Julian comes along.
Lord Julian Belfry is the younger son of a titled family. No one expects much of a younger son, but they certainly don’t expect and can’t tolerate his ownership of a (gasp!) theater — especially a theater that has the reputation of being a place for gentleman to spend a night out with their mistresses.
In Emily, Julian sees a way to attain respectability for his theater. In Julian, Emily sees a path to freedom. At a country party (the setting of much of the previous book), Julian comes up with a plan that might solve both of their problems: He proposed marriage. With Emily’s good social standing, he hopes to repair the theater’s reputation and draw in the right crowd. And with Julian’s money, Emily’s family can be freed from their debts, saving Emily from being forced into a terrible marriage.
The arrangement would clearly be a win-win situation, and the fact that they enjoy one another’s company is an added bonus. Emily accepts, and the two are married right away. Emily soon learns that there’s one more unexpected benefit to the marriage — she and Julian are very compatible, and they enjoy a steamy start to their married life (interrupted only by the appearance of a homeless kitten, whom Julian christens Cecil Lucifer Beelzebub).
While quite enjoyable, I found TM&TM a little… flat. There just isn’t much dramatic conflict in the plot. The key tension is around whether Emily spends her time wooing society ladies by paying calls, when what she really wants is to spend more time with Julian and participate in running the theater. Julian’s conflict has to do with running the theater in a way that will prove it’s respectable, when what he really and truly wants is his own father’s approval. And, as expected, they each must reluctantly face the fact that they’ve fallen in love — how to admit to one’s spouse that a mutually beneficial arrangement now involves one’s feelings?
Because of course she loved him — how could she not? But, more importantly, how could she ensure that he did not know, did not ever discover her secret? Because, after all, in a marriage of convenience, love would the most inconvenient surprise of all.
It’s all very pleasant and often quite funny, but there just isn’t much there there when it comes to the plot. The stakes are fairly low, after all, when it comes to the plotlines related to the theater. The book is at its best when it focuses on relationships, and it was touching to see how both Emily and Julian stand up to their families and repair their damaged connections.
To Marry and To Meddle has the fun, light tone of the previous books, and as Emily continues her close friendship with Violet and Diana, we get to spend more time with these entertaining characters, which is lovely. One of the things I really appreciate about these books is how the women’s friendship is so central to the stories. Even though each book focuses on a different romantic relationship, the time spent with the trio of women is what connects them all, and their support and affection for one another feels very special.
The dialogue and overall writing can be a real hoot:
Predictably, she blushed. Perversely, he was delighted.
Julian clearly know the way to a woman’s heart:
[…] After Julian had rung for tea and crossed to the sideboard to busy himself with the decanter stored there, he said, almost casually, “You must buy any books you wish to add to our collection.”
Something within Emily warmed at these words. She’d always been faintly envious of Violet’s library at the house she shared with Lord James, and felt a small thrill run through her at the thought that she, too, could have a room full of books to call her own.
Amidst the funnier moments…
“You’re not…” Violet trailed off, a look of dawning horror on her face. “Sick of tea?” She uttered the words in a hushed whisper, as though afraid to speak them into truth.
… there are also scenes of coming into one’s own power and strength:
Here, a woman could take up space, speak loudly, draw the eyes of a crowd — or, alternatively, could slip into a role behind the scenes, quietly doing her work just as well as the men who surrounded her — and Emily found both prospects not shocking but… exhilarating.
I do recommend this book, but suggest starting at the beginning of the series, or you’ll miss the backstories of the characters and their social circle. I don’t know if there will be a 4th book, but I can guess which side character might get her own book next, and I hope my prediction comes true!