Title: Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After, #2)
Author: Tessa Dare
Rating: 4 Stars
Say Yes to the Marquess is easily one of my favorite historical romance novels, right up there with Courtney Milan's Unraveled. I often struggle with historical fiction because every series is composed of a series of companion novels--and that, frankly, bores me. Quite simply put, I am not suited to such a dull series of companion novels. I enjoy the secondary characters to a love story well enough but, when I find out that there's an entire novel devoted to their romance, I either envision that scenario myself--so much so that the actual novel pales since it doesn't follow the structure in my mind--or I simply fail to connect with that character on a level stronger than "secondary character." Thus, with historical romances, I wind up having to read every single novel an author writes since I never fall in love with an entire series. It's always two books from their debut quartet, one book from their sophomore trilogy, and a novella from their current assignment; I will be the first to admit, it's a chore. After all, it's not the authors I love but the romances and if I'm not on board with the characters, I drift off for their epic love story.
With the Castles Ever After Series, though, each companion novel is composed of a completely different heroine. The only similarity between these novels which cause them to be bunched together is the fact that their setting is at a castle and, for each heroine, this castle represents something completely unique and revelatory about their personalities. In Romancing the Duke, the predecessor to Say Yes to the Marquess, the castle was--literally--the fairy tale the protagonist dreamt of and never attained. In Say Yes to the Marquess, though, it represents freedom to Clio, an intelligent woman who has waited eight years for her engagement to Piers Brandom to culminate in marriage. When Clio's uncle passes away and leaves his castle to Clio, she recognizes that she no longer needs marriage to support her; she has a castle. But Rafe Brandon, the notorious younger brother of Piers and his complete opposite in every way--a rake and prizefighter where Piers is a diplomat--won't let Clio call off the engagement. Piers is finally returning to England and Rafe is determined that Clio will marry. But years of restrained passion lie between Clio and Rafe and in Rafe's determination to make Clio marry, he just may want her to marry him instead.
Say Yes to the Marquess is the perfect slow-burn, forbidden, friends-to-lovers romance. Clio and Rafe grew up together and have always had an easy rapport between them. Though they have had little contact over the years, particularly since Rafe grew estranged from his family, the situation at hand has them in closer proximity than ever before. It is impossible not to love the relationship between Clio and Rafe from the start. Both wear facades; her of societal gentility, him of rakishness. In reality, though, Clio isn't the perfect gentlewoman others believe her to be for she aspires for more beyond the confines of society; of a marriage with love, of freedom to run her own business, of a life spent pleasing herself, not others. Similarly, Rafe hides behind a tough, manly facade despite the fact that all he wants is the love and affection denied to him as a child. Clio and Rafe understand one another in ways others do not and that deep-seated comprehension, alongside their burning sexual tension and the impending marriage of Clio and Piers looming ahead all makes for a highly entertaining read.
What's more, Say Yes to the Marquess is one of the most empowering novels I've come across. When asked if there is another in her life, Clio replies that yes, there is--her. Clio yearns to put herself above all else for once in her life and her journey to attaining that confidence--confidence not only in her abilities to provide for herself but confidence in her curvaceous figure as well--is deftly handled and inspiring. If there's one thing that the Adult Romance genre excels in, it is in writing headstrong feminist heroines who fall in love with equally strong male counterparts who, above all else, respect not only them, but their dreams as well. (If only we could see more of that in every other genre too...) Nevertheless, Say Yes to the Marquess is another resounding triumph for Tessa Dare. Truly, I cannot recommend this series enough.