Review

Review: Oppressed & Empowered: The Viscount’s Capable Wife by Bree Wolf (2018)

Love’s Second Chance Series, book 11

Heat Factor: winter

Character Chemistry: they communicated well

Plot: redundant

Overall: nope

Evelyn Procten is the village doctor’s daughter and has been training with him since she was young. Doctoring is her calling. Now she’s in her 20s, her father is ailing, and they’re planning for the future, which involves her marrying her father’s apprentice who is both sexist and arrogant but also unskilled and lacking empathy.

Richard Davenport is Viscount Ashwood and his family manor is close to the Proctens’ village. Ashwood is supposed to have a form of high functioning autism such that he is unable to interpret people’s expressions and intentions, so he is reserved and most people believe him to be to be cold and unfeeling.

At the outset, the story is projected as being about a woman doctor who’s very skilled, but who, living in a man’s world, will never be able to achieve her potential. Nevertheless, she will persevere because medicine is her calling, and who needs a man anyway? This thread unravels quickly, although is periodically picked up a few more times in the story, but really Evelyn adjusts to not being a doctor quite readily when it comes to the point. And the point is that Richard and Evelyn’s fathers had arranged a marriage for them when they were much younger, so E becomes Lady Ashwood approximately halfway through the book. Apparently they were already attracted to one another, but they had different life trajectories until they learn of their fathers’ agreement, so they’re both super angry about it for about 20 pages before simply capitulating. Because honor. Never mind the hypothetical engagement between Evelyn and the Dr.’s apprentice, which was mentioned very early and then left to trail behind the rest of the story in the dust. And also never mind E and R secretly have the hots for each other but let’s not let that get in the way of the being angry at the fathers and the honor.

There are three points of conflict, all somewhat tied together. First, Evelyn is a doctor and wants the independence to be a doctor first, love second, and the title of “wife” for its own sake not at all. Second, Evelyn wants to have her skills and knowledge as a doctor respected, especially by Richard. Finally, Richard’s sister is unmarried and pregnant, which means that if she doesn’t want to face social ostracism, she’ll need to remain secluded until the baby’s birth and then give up the baby to an adoptive family.

The story is driven by the sub-plot of Richard’s sister. Claudia attempted to elope, was left behind by her spineless intended husband when his brother came to fetch him, and subsequently got drunk and had sex with a stranger, which left her compromised in a pretty big way. She is a vivacious and social young woman, so the ostracism that would follow her after the birth of an illegitimate child would be akin to death for her. Richard is trying to protect her for her future, and Claudia is chafing against the restriction of having to hide her pregnancy, which is the whole conflict between brother and sister when the story begins. Somehow this struggle for Claudia’s happiness transforms from her own careless social selfishness to a heart wrenching trauma of a mother losing her child, which at first seems wholly projected onto Claudia by Evelyn. Honestly, Claudia acknowledges in chapter 6 (of 45 (?!), so pretty early) that Richard’s decision is good for her, so she basically comes across as a petulant young woman who made her own impetuous bad choice (also acknowledged by the lady), and refuses to live with the consequences both in the short and long term. If I were Richard, I would also be like WTH is wrong with you Claudia? And Evelyn, why are you the most naive woman on the planet for thinking an unmarried noblewoman could have a child out of wedlock? He’s way nicer about it than I would be, though.

Just a quarter of the way through the book, after E harangues R as a cruel and heartless tyrant, Richard explains why he’s doing what he’s doing, and they both agree that he’s thought through every angle and is probably in the right. So although a quarter of the way through the book, Claudia, Evelyn, and Richard ALL AGREE that it’s probably ultimately best for Claudia to be sequestered until she gives birth so she has a fighting chance of maintaining her reputation, this argument recurs AT LEAST TWICE MORE. And again, Evelyn is somehow surprised by R’s emotional intelligence and caring for his sister. Seems like maybe not the greatest foundation for a marriage.

Also, something of a non sequitur here, if Claudia has positive, loving feelings about the man she slept with even though she has no idea who he is (wait, what? But yes, Claudia says this), why is it that no one suggests that they go to Scotland to see if they can find this man? This would have made pretty much every character feel better about his/her life choices.

Enough about the story. It’s a little all over the place. Is the problem that Evelyn wants to be a doctor? Is it that Richard is autocratic with his sister? Is it that R and E have an arranged marriage? Is it that they’re secretly in love with each other and aren’t convinced that the feeling is reciprocated? Is it a murder mystery? I just don’t know! Let’s talk about the romance, because the plot can be totally bonkers as long as there’s a solid romance!

There’s not. R and E are supposed to have some steamy kisses and lustful yearnings, but I am totally not convinced. Evelyn does realize that Richard has a hard time understanding the emotions of others, so she begins their romantic relationship with an agreement of open communication. I commend Wolf’s presentation of this. It drives me crazy when the conflict between protagonists is exclusively due to the fact that they refuse to talk to each other and make unfounded assumptions. In terms of communication in their marriage, R and E are pretty solid. In the bedroom…eh. The writing is very tame and euphemistic with respect to sex, so almost all of the passion and urgency in their romance is in the kissing, and it’s just not there.

In the next instant, his hands reached for her, sweeping her into his embrace. A small gasp escaped Evelyn before his mouth closed over hers, kissing her with a passion she had never known before.

Congratulations, Evelyn. I also haven’t known it because you have effectively described nothing.

In another instance of why is this even happening vacillation: When Richard and Evelyn become formally engaged and determine there will be one month until the wedding, E kisses R with one of those kisses and they both say “one month” to each other with breathless anticipation at the end of it. They have a conversation during which Evelyn says they don’t know each other very well, and after some back and forth they both acknowledge that they know each other at an “our souls speak” level. And then on the night of the wedding out of the blue, without having previously discussed it with her husband-to-be, Evelyn decides she doesn’t want to consummate the marriage until they know each other better. Are you for real right now? You had a MONTH to talk to Richard about this, and you spring it on him on the wedding night when, up to this point, you had been consistently signalling you’re emotionally ready for this moment. My problem isn’t even that she doesn’t want to consummate the marriage. It’s that she goes blithely along and then pulls the rug out from under Richard. A++ communication there.

Just save yourself the frustration and skip this one.


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