Title: It Happened One Autumn (Wallflowers #2)
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Year of Publication: 2005
Length: 382 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 4.25 stars
Spoiler Warning: I generally find it very silly to put spoiler warnings on romance novels, because the outcome is pre-determined. The characters on the back cover are going to end up Happily-Ever-After. That is a foregone conclusion. However, because there’s a twist to how it happens that I wouldn’t want to give away, and because it affects the next book in the series, Devil in Winter, I will place a mild spoiler warning on this review.
Lillian Bowman and Marcus, Lord Westcliff have fought like cats and dogs since the moment they laid eyes on each other, which in romance novel terms clearly indicates that they are meant to be together.
I’m a sucker for this trope, and I freely admit that. It showed in some of my earliest ships. Han/Leia, Indy/Marion, Beatrice/Benedick, Dimitri/Anya — my sexual awakening was characterised by this dynamic. Anyone who read my review of Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me has already witnessed how strongly this sort of relationship will attract me in a romance novel. So, in some ways, It Happened One Autumn was almost too easy for me to like. The cards were stacked in its favour from the beginning.
As in Secrets of a Summer Night (and many of her other historical romances), Kleypas complicates her love story with the realism of the society her characters live in. Westcliff represents the old guard in some ways, though he’s innovative and progressive in others. An aristocrat who knows that he must move with the times or get left behind, Westcliff focuses himself on finding ways to use his inherited wealth and status to integrate himself with the new, industrial world. Progressive as his economic views are, however, personally, he’s turned into a stoic, unyielding man, due in great part to his upbringing. I found myself wishing his family had been fleshed out a bit more — they’re important and yet periphery at the same time, which is an odd combination. His sisters seem like interesting characters, but they don’t get nearly enough screen time (and I still can’t figure out if they have prior novels that I’ve somehow missed or not). His mother is a classic dragon, though, and figures into the end game in a critical way.
By contrast, Lillian is new money and American. The Bowmans have traveled to London after utterly failing on the New York social scene, aiming to catch aristocratic husbands for the two daughters, thus uniting their money with a bit of class and respectability. Lillian the soap heiress is utterly unsuitable for Westcliff — loud, boistrous, bold, unrefined, incapable of keeping her opinions to herself (are we catching on yet as to why I like her so much?), and he doesn’t need her money. The attraction is inescapable, though, particularly when the Bowmans find themselves back on Westcliff’s estate for an end-of-season shooting party.
Predictably, chaos ensues, but the great fun of it is watching Westcliff thaw out. In Secrets of a Summer Night, he definitely comes across as the staid and immoveable businessman; in It Happened One Autumn, his sense of humour creeps out. He warms to Lillian, beginning to appreciate her good spirits and her energy. An impulse turns into a kiss which turns into quite a bit more — as ever, Kleypas does excellent sex scenes, and this book is no exception. Things heat up between Marcus and Lillian even as they’re denying they want anything to do with each other. And Marcus starts questioning whether it’s really all that important to have a respectable, proper, English rose of a wife — maybe a high-spirited, impetuous American who can knock him down a peg might be just the thing. We also see Marcus getting possessive — and as I’ve noted before, I rather like that in a hero — when his old school friend St. Vincent, who’s turned into an utter reprobate as an adult, starts wooing Lillian in all apparent seriousness. I love that Lillian actually gets presented with a choice — and she reacts to it spectacularly and in a way I totally related to. It can be alarming, to all of a sudden find yourself the focus of incredibly sensuous attention from a known charmer, and Lillian responds to that in a very real way.
One of the things I like best about this book is that the climactic action genuinely surprised me. I didn’t at all see it coming — and considering that this genre is a fairly formulaic one, that really counts for something. So, here’s the spoiler-heavy part of the review: Westcliff’s mother, who most emphatically does not approve of the potential match, lures Lillian into a trap, and she ends up abducted by none other than Westcliff’s old school friend, St. Vincent — impoverished, badly in need of a wealthy wife, and moved to desperate straits. Put in a pin in all of that; we’ll be back for it in Devil in Winter. He intends to take Lillian to Gretna Greene and coerce her into a marriage that will solve his financial problems, though he knows it comes at the expense of his friendship with Westcliff (and possibly at the danger of having his wife murder him fairly soon after the wedding). This is a romance novel, however, and so of course Marcus catches up to them, only to find Lillian midway through rescuing herself already; Marcus beats St. Vincent to a pulp; he and Lillian move on to happy-ever-after.
This book is great fun because of the colourful characters, and as ever, Kleypas takes great care to round out her world with a magnificent supporting cast. Lillian and Marcus both have friends and rivals to bounce off of, which always serves to make characters seem more fully realised. The pacing is good, moving between points of action and quieter moments, and there are a few scenes where Kleypas gets to show off a talent for description that is, I think, often underappreciated in the genre. I knock a bit off the assessment because of a weird subplot involving Lillian’s preternatural sense of smell and a supposedly magic perfume; the book didn’t need it, it’s entirely extraneous, and a pretty pointless distraction. Ultimately, though, this book is an exciting, joyous romp with thoroughly entertaining characters. Highly recommended.