Title: A Secret Arrangement
Author: Farida Mestek
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Historical (Regency) Romance
Length: Novella (159 pages)
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: A lot of telling with very wordy dialog makes for some boring reading.
Henry Chadderton’s father earned his wealth in trade, but he looks to elevate his son to the gentry through marriage into a titled family. And so it is that Edward Montford, the second son of an impoverished baronet, accompanies his twin sister Emma to London in order to introduce her to her future husband.
Henry neither appreciates being ordered around nor has any intention of marrying anyone. Then he meets Emma—and Edward—and falls in love with the wrong sibling, setting off a chain of events that will cause arguments, bloodshed, jealousy, and scandal. But Henry will endure it all if it will eventually lead Edward to him.
A Secret Arrangement seems to be this author’s first m/m published story and has a fairly typical Regency plot. Reading through her blog, I can see where the Jane Austen — Mestek’s favorite author — influence comes from and now know that Regency and Regency-set romantic fiction is her only reading and writing. While I was quite impressed with the antiquated feel of the story (I would have guessed that it had taken much longer than two months to pen this novella) and its prose seemed technically faultless, I admit to having some issues with it, ironically because of this plus. In fact, the rating you see is for the pretty much for the writing effort alone.
Set in 1810, nineteen-year-old oft-forgotten second son and twin Edward is sent to London on a mission to see his sister married off to Henry. His family is in debt due to his father and brother Charles’s gambling problems, and Henry is loaded, which makes him a perfect prospect. The arrangement is made between the two fathers, but things don’t go as planned when Henry makes it clear that he has no desire to marry Emma. Though snubbing the sister, he is warm and inviting to the shy and demure Edward, extending the hand of friendship until Edward’s father and brother hear of the snub. Charles comes to town to force the issue with unexpected results, allowing the chance for Edward and Henry to spend a great deal of time together. Days filled with poetry, long walks and conversation draw the two men closer and their friendship develops into something more. It goes awry, though, when various people interfere, forcing Edward and Henry apart. Is there any way for our heroes to be together when so much scheming is going on during a time when the very hint of their relationship could have severe consequences?
So my biggest issue was that A Secret Arrangement bored me. Told mostly from Edward’s third-person POV (we do get some narration from other characters), the tale is filled with dialog that goes on forever and prose that seems to be period-true. This is entirely subjective and it’s entirely possible the true aficionados of the genre will appreciate the possibly (probably) authentic words and style that is used, but me? I was bored. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always need contemporary murder, big fun and mayhem in my fiction, but I would like not to be put to sleep by my reading. Likewise, the story suffers from a tell, not show, condition. We are told the story via lots and lots of dialog, as well as thoughts from various characters — often after the fact — and I would definitely have liked to have seen much of the happenings instead of being told.
Also, the author employs a technique of shifting back and forth through time in the first part of the book, which drove me a bit batty. It disconnected me from the story and didn’t make for a relaxing read.
The plot felt, at times, contrived, and the ending coupling of characters had me rolling my eyes in the coincidence of it all. To say more would be to include spoilers.
For characters, I found the protags to be dull, colorless, and pretty-much one-dimensional. We do get to know the naïve, often-blushing Edward somewhat better than Henry, but the tell, not show style prevented me from getting close to either one.
The secondary cast was similarly shallow, with the added bonus of them being selfish and callous. I couldn’t stand any of them, and Emma, Edward’s sister, takes the cake. She is unfortunately a typical, unlikable female in m/m stories, a scheming harpy who was, in my opinion, irredeemable.
Lastly, I found myself having problems with the romantic element of the story. I think part of this was the lack of depth to their characters as well as the tell/show problem. We are told almost in passing that Edward had feelings for Henry, and we get a bare minimum of reverse affection from Henry. And if you are looking for a down and dirty smex-fest, this is not the book for you. There is no on-screen smexxin — chaste kisses or otherwise — and in fact, there is scarcely any hint of it at all. That didn’t bother me at all, but the interaction lost added to the lack of romantic feeling I had.
Readers of historical romance may very well like this wordy, true-to-period novella, but it wasn’t for me. As always, I am just one opinion of many.