Romance has been up to its elbow-length gloves in inheritance problems since Longbourn was first entailed. Aristocratic titles, family fortunes and wills with unlikely marriage requirements are standard plot mechanisms by now, and they’re all over this month’s romances.
A CARIBBEAN HEIRESS IN PARIS (HQN, 368 pp., paper, $12.99) is Adriana Herrera’s first historical, and her larger-than-life characterization translates beautifully from the world of her contemporary romances. Fans of Sarah MacLean’s “Bombshell” are sure to love the dazzle and drama of this series opener. And it’s grand to have a glimpse of belle epoque Paris in a romance; more of this, please!
The Dominican heiress Luz Alana Heith-Benzan is a rum distiller; Evan Sinclair makes whiskey and is the rebellious son of the Duke of Annan, a truly heinous human. Both our leads are in Paris for the Exposition Universelle, hoping to win acclaim for their products and expand their markets. Both are also dealing with complicated legal legacies that thwart their visions for the future. As is so often the way in romance, the solution is a marriage of convenience that both parties soon yearn to make a marriage in truth.
This book wants its capitalist characters to succeed on their merits. The glittering wealth fantasy of historical romance — ballrooms and gowns and beautiful homes — is also here an entrepreneur’s fantasy. Luz Alana attends soirees for business reasons as much as social ones, and Evan’s title is a lever that opens financial doors with those who might snub a brown-skinned Caribbean businesswoman. If wealth and power are measures of value, then women of color deserve wealth and power, and woe to anyone who stands in Luz Alana’s way.
Speaking of loathsome dukes, next we have Cat Sebastian’s latest, THE PERFECT CRIMES OF MARIAN HAYES (Avon, 352 pp., paper, $15.99). A blackmail letter from a thief to a duchess kicks off a brief epistolary flirtation, and next thing you know our leads are on the lam together. The series’ first book, “The Queer Principles of Kit Webb,” set up the characters’ rejection of inherited wealth and title, and this book carries it forward into full-blown anarchy.
Marian, Duchess of Clare, has shot her evil husband but does not know if he’s survived to incriminate her. Our charming thief — Rob by name and Rob by nature — has uncovered the duke’s secrets but is still hiding a few of his own.
Rob has a weakness for stern, brilliant women (who doesn’t?), and his affability plays beautifully against Marian’s sharper angles. They don’t care much for conventional morality but they care a great deal about the people they love, a category that slowly starts to include each other.
If romance is designed to lay bare the innermost workings of a person’s heart, then it’s ruthless to put Marian and Rob — oh God, I just saw what she did there — in a romance. They resist being known in the same way they flee from the law: Every page of this book sees them trying to squirm out from under the reader’s scrutiny. Self-knowledge? You might as well offer them a cup of drugged wine (an example not chosen at random).
I couldn’t have loved them more.
Finally, we have Sangu Mandanna’s THE VERY SECRET SOCIETY OF IRREGULAR WITCHES (Berkley, 336 pp., paper, $17), which will be published on Aug. 23. Mika Moon’s magical social media videos aren’t faked for the clout: She’s actually a real witch, hiding in plain sight. When she receives a desperate plea to tutor three young witches on a remote Norfolk estate, she follows her magical instincts and accepts — and winds up in a tangle with a hot but scowly librarian, a coterie of elderly caretakers and three children with far more magic than they know what to do with. And then, horribly, lawyers get involved.
This book is as soft and unsubtle as a pile of golden retriever puppies drenched in glitter — but the longer I read, the more I found to love. There’s a sadness at the root of the world-building here, which I found compelling: Witches are all orphans whose parents die young. Lonely children become isolated adults, figuring out their magic on their own and living in a familiar kind of semi-secrecy.
Mika wears the anguish of her upbringing like a suit of armor, awkward and constricted by it but painfully vulnerable beneath. She doesn’t dare imagine a better world for her own sake — but she’ll move mountains if it means these children will not have to suffer as she did.
It makes for a slight but meaningful shift in the angle of the happy ending, which is usually so focused on the central characters’ bliss in the present. This romance, more than many, looks to the future, and imagines imagining a better world. Inheritance not only as something you receive, but something you pass on. Not in titles or land or money, but in a more precious currency: love, support and hope.