I'm a big fan of MJP, she's one of the pillars of the romance genre, and I'm always excited to find an older book I haven't read. "The Bargain" is actually a re-issue of a Regency published a decade before, and introduces and references some beloved characters from other novels. This book introduces the prematurely white-haired Scottish surgeon, Ian Kinlock who pops up in several other romances, and I loved seeing his own romance unfold. In fact, for me this secondary romance overshadowed the primary one. The premise is original, Lady Jocelyn must marry before she turns 25 or lose her inheritance, so she marries a dying soldier who gives his name in return for Lady Jocelyn providing an annuity for his only sister. However in grand MJP fashion (see, "One Perfect Rose) he is not dying, just a missed piece of shrapnel and a opium addiction... My issue with "The Bargain" is not with the hero, David Lancaster, he's wonderful, but with the heroine Lady Jocelyn. She reads as cold, even when she's being kind and generous, issues stemming from scandalous parents and an early supposed rejection, for much of the novel she is preoccupied with the Duke of Candover (Rafe, hero of Petals in the Storm, he's in the Archangel series) and it really takes away from David who is more deserving of her attention and loving her the whole time... Luckily she gets her act together, and a B rated MJP is still better than most authors on a good day...
I thought maybe I should list 10 things I love about this book, but there is only one:
the hero Sebastian.
The list gets a little longer when I list the things I DON'T LOVE about this book...
1) The title
2) The cutesy employment of the title in this book, in the form top ten lists that take you right out of the story. This is not High Fidelity, it doesn't need to be.
3) The villian. He's super gross.
4) The heroine's self-absorbed distant and manipulative Grandmother, she's gross, too.
5) The way the H/H deal with their respective families.
6) How Sebastian copes with PTSD.
7) How quickly the H/H fall in love.
Things I LIKE, but did not love, about this book:
The heroine, she's smart and good-hearted, but not quite up to scratch for a hero like Sebastian. She's not an "ugly duckling" she's just country bred, and a little too naive for such an experienced hero. Obviously thousands of novels have been written about a rake and his reformer, some of which are fantastic, this one just wasn't quite right. I hate when the hero seems to be convincing himself he's in love, or it happens so suddenly, I just don't buy it. In fact, Sebastian goes from not wanting to marry Annabel to proposing in a single scene...Annabel calls him out on this, too - but why not just write their story differently? I really liked Annabel's cousin Louisa, if she doesn't already have her own book, she should.
This is just one of those books that wasn't awful, it was just a little bit off.