What Isabella Desires
was the third installment in Anne Mallory’s misleadingly named Lords of Intrigue series (fact: I have never read a less
intriguing spy series in my life). Having suffered through the needlessly complex yet totally unsatisfying plot of Masquerading the Marquess
, only to find myself pleasantly surprised by the sweet romance and genuine warmth of the characters in Daring the Duke
, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the series’ final installment. Unfortunately, things did not end on a high note for me.
The novel’s title character is Lady Isabella Willoughby – a sweet, quiet, respectable widow with a penchant for chess, gardening, and Marcus Stewart, Lord Roth. After spending a lifetime as a wallflower, Isabella has finally made the decision to become a bolder, more polished version of herself in hopes of ensnaring the sexy baron whom she has loved since childhood. Though I freely admit to identifying more with adventurous heroines than with wallflowers, I usually come to appreciate the quiet dignity and kindness of characters like Isabella. This time, however, Mallory missed the boat entirely and Isabella never became anything more than a bland, second-rate character devoted to Marcus the way that a puppy is devoted to its master.
As for Marcus, it quickly became apparent to me that Mallory never fully committed to who his character should be. In the beginning of the novel she sets him up as your typical straight-shooting, tell-it-like-it-is hero. He’s wealthy, intelligent, politically shrewd, and more than a little ruthless with his enemies (verbally cutting three men in the space of a heartbeat). Later in the book, however, Mallory seems to forget all this and Roth becomes uncharacteristically demonstrative with his tenants (oddly more so than with Isabella) and more forgiving of his enemies than any man in his position actually would be. There’s also the issues of the family curse and Roth’s mysterious illness that causes him to brood excessively throughout the book. I haven’t a clue what Roth’s father died of because the symptoms are never described in enough detail, but it sure as hell sounds to me like Roth suffers from migraines (hardly something to justify this level of paranoia and fuss).
With two characters so individually bland as Isabella and Marcus, it’s no wonder I didn’t feel a lick of chemistry between the two of them as a couple. Unfortunately for Isabella, Marcus has never seen her as anything more than a little sister. Yet, Mallory wants her readers to accept that all it took for Marcus to switch from seeing Isabella as a sibling to seeing her as a sex object was a few low-cut gowns and well-placed double entendres. If only! By the end of the book, Marcus’s feelings for Isabella have supposedly progressed to such a point that he is as madly in love with her as she is with him. I’m as big a sucker for a happy ending as the next romance junkie, but there’s simply not enough dialogue or description in the last quarter of the novel to make this change of heart believable.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this novel was the fact that it was practically devoid of all of the beautiful imagery and well-written description that I felt gave the characters in Daring the Duke
such depth and life. Mallory shows readers only tiny glimmers of this skill in What Isabella Desires
, most notably during the first scene in which Marcus plays the piano for Isabella. Her turn of phrase is that scene is almost achingly beautiful. Sadly, knowing that Mallory is capable of writing scenes that make the character’s thoughts, feelings, and actions come alive in this way makes the fact that she uses this skill so haphazardly all the more of a shame.
Verdict: This novel can only be described as adequate at best. Unless you’re a huge Mallory fan, you’re likely to be disappointed.