This review will contain some spoilers
Proof by Seduction is Courtney Milan’s full début historical romance from Harlequin.
Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin for the review copies.
Before we get into the nitty and gritty, we just wanna say:
We officially declare that Proof by Seduction must be book pushed onto others. Your soul will weep if you don’t.
Ok, probably not, but it’s very much made of win!
Ahem. Okey dokey. Our enthusiasm briefly controlled, here is the official blurb taken from Courtney’s official website:
She is his last chance for a future of happiness . . .
Jenny Keeble has never let her humble upbringing stop her. She’s made her way in the world as a fortune teller, one who convinces her clients her predictions are correct by telling them what they most want to hear. Business is good… until she meets her match in the form of Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, a scientist and sworn bachelor.
He just doesn’t know it yet.Broodingly handsome, Gareth is appalled to discover his cousin has fallen under the spell of “Madame Esmerelda,” and he vows to prove her a fraud. But his unexpected attraction to the fiery enchantress defies logic. Jenny disrupts every facet of Gareth’s calculated plan— until he can’t decide whether to ruin her or claim her for his own. Now, as they engage in a passionate battle of wills, two lonely souls must choose between everything they know . . . and the boundless possibilities of love.
Lou: I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book since reading a sample of Proof from The Dangerous Book of Excerpts. Madame Esmerelda? A totally awesome name; one that inspires secrets, mystery and fitted the role that Jenny Keeble played – at least until we saw the real Jenny. What grabbed my attention instantly about this book was the complete polar difference between Jenny and Gareth. They were literally poles apart in personality, social status, and my first thought was: How will these two diverse characters make a go of it? Their personalities were so very strong and set in their ways. I know it’s not a pretty analogy to use, but they were like two stubborn goats butting heads against one another. LOL
Has: I loved how ingenious Jenny was with dealing with Gareth right from the word go. The scene with the orange and the tasks she set before him were very funny. Ohhh, especially the elephant and the song! LOL :D! I loved the set up of the battle they were about to engage in. It was, truly, a battle of butting heads and wills. I also realised something else about the tasks that Jenny set. It was like an unconventional courtship for Jenny. It really felt like those things were for her and that gift for Jenny summed it up for me – from something awkward and lifeless; to alive, vibrant and then set free.
Lou: The tasks were very funny, smart and witty. It became about them, and I think for a while, poor Ned was forgotten by Jenny and Gareth. Ned is Gareth’s very troubled nephew and he was the catalyst for Jenny and Gareth meeting. I felt his story was just as important as the protagonists.
Has: I agree! In many ways, Ned represented both sides of Jenny and Gareth’s view points. With his depression and his expected role in society, he was definitely a catalyst for them. Ned is very emotional but also pretty awkward dealing with people.
Lou: We’ll chat about Ned towards the latter part of this review as Courtney’s next book will feature Ned as the hero.
I think Courtney did a marvellous job in making Jenny’s character to be very sympathetic and very strong willed at the same time. Despite her station in life, Jenny wasn’t going to let Gareth walk away without a good fight, especially when he threw his insults at her. The gauntlet was pretty much thrown…
Has: She had to be though. I loved she didn’t take the easy way out and was very intuitive and intelligent. I think she was one of the most resourceful heroines I’ve read in a long while.
Lou: I agree. And the most likeable without having that attitude of ‘woe is me.’ She built herself a life, perhaps not morally right in the eyes of others, but I think it was very brave and commendable that she sought other ways to becoming independent and she succeeded in doing so!
Has: But she wasn’t an innocent ninny – she made mistakes but I liked that aspect too.
Lou: And in Gareth’s place, he had what she craved, but he wasn’t happy and craved to be free of society.
Has: Jennie wanted respectability and acceptance, and he wanted to go against conventions and be free. He could only be passionate and free while studying and travelling scientific interests.
Lou: And Jenny’s livelihood was literally the opposite of scientific logic.
Has: Another thing is that he was really passionate about his interests. You sensed that because he could understand and relate to Jenny in a way, and she hated it. But she was very intuitive and sensitive. I found she was more like a counselor really.
Lou: Especially with her relationship with Ned, which I think was for her sake as well as Neds. And that is what made Jenny more likeable than Gareth in the beginning, for me at least.
What did you think of Courtney’s tone of writing and style?
Has: I loved it! Her prose was rich and vivid. When she described the sexual tension between them – especially leading to their first kiss was fantastic.
Lou: Ahh, now that was such a sensual moment and made my heart go pitter-patter. Because the whole page is pretty much a favourite of ours, we selected our favourite part from their first kiss:
“I’m not going to marry whatever poor girl you pick
out,” he said softly. “I pit your prediction against mine.
I predict you’ll call me Gareth. When I bed you, Meg,
I’ll be damned if you scream anything else.”
“If you’re trying to prove your’re not an automaton,”
Jenny said, “you’ll really ought to consider varying your
tone. You might as well be talking about the price of
potatoes, for all the–”
He cut her off with a swift kiss. Heaven help her trem-
bling body, she let him do it. And when he pulled back,
it was her lips that clung to his.
“You see?” he murmured. “You’ll scream.”
Has: Gareth came to life when he was with Jenny. While he was awkward with others, he had no inhibitions with Jenny, and I think it’s because Jenny sees through his mask and position. And she doesn’t care about him being awkward because she understands. My other favourite scene is where she ties him up to prove a point. It was so symbolic because she was metaphorically tied up with society’s restriction.
Lou: She wasn’t allowed into society because they had dictated to her that she couldn’t, and because it was drummed into her at school. Her being Madame Esmerelda was her way of sticking up her fingers at the people of higher society, who paid her to tell them basically what they wanted to hear, but Jenny didn’t realise that even though they were of higher social class, it didn’t make them happy. As was the case of Ned and Gareth!
Has: There was a key scene when Gareth forced Jenny to realise the lie she was living in playing Madame Esemeralda. For me that was real development in their relationship.
Lou: It was also Jenny that makes Gareth see that being a Duke doesn’t mean he can’t be a brother, uncle and husband. His Grandfather was a bastard, and that’s why I could forgive Gareth’s character for his cruel words to Jenny – once we learnt his background history. He was still a wounded child in some ways, who had an awfully lonely childhood.
Has: I think that’s the key and main theme of the book. They both prove to one another and show things to each other that their past shouldn’t dictate their future happiness. At first, both Gareth and Jenny hide behind masks and roles of their own making and the ones that were forced upon them.
Lou: I think Jenny was more at ease with her role; it was one she didn’t want to play, but she accepted it. With Gareth, it took him a lot longer and he was more wary of letting go.
Has: But she wasn’t truly happy with Madame Esemeralda. She only did it to survive. I think she wanted to help and engage with people as being Esmeralda, but Gareth’s accusations made her realise that it was wrong because she wasn’t being honest. And the guilt she felt later showed that. Gareth hid behind science and logic but that scene with his sister where he told himself he loved her, but he just couldn’t express that because of his childhood. It was just easier to hide behind that mask.
Lou: There were sad aspects in this book, and I think the roles overall made me think of how Jenny and Gareth were pretty much beat up mentally and emotionally for all of these years.
Has: I agree and their romance and the potential of that in their future really made me root for them. Proof was a real, emotional, deep and multi-layered love story by two characters who were flawed, but real, and that for me made it one of the best historicals I have read this year.
Lou: Word! And I can’t wait for Ned’s book. His character was so deeply troubled in Proof, that I want to see his journey and how it concludes. And I want to know if his heroine will be the very mysterious Kathleen, who kept sneaking off into the corridors.
Has: I think she might be – there was definitely a hint of attraction with them but I don’t think it will start off as a happy marriage, because he is still immature and I don’t think it is a relationship that started off well. I suspect there will be surprises and it might be a few years along the lines. But I will definitely add his book on must buy list!
We give Proof of Seduction a solid 5 out of 5.