The Lady Most Willing…, by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway
This book is the second book in a series that involves an ensemble cast of writers engaged in writing about a complex romantic situation that involves multiple couples. In some ways I found this book to be broadly similar in some of its flaws to the previous volume, including the lack of morality on the part of the men and women here, at least most of them. Men who behave like some of the gentlemen here did with gentlewomen would be in danger of finding themselves a quiet plot of Scottish soil to be buried in, rather than a beautiful wife and the expectation of children. Similarly, women who behaved like this would likely find themselves in a small house in deserted country to live out their lives in disgrace. That said, while the plot itself is somewhat compelling in its tension and drama and occasional bits of good humor, the setup of this book is defective in many ways, considering that the whole problem of the heirs of the Scottish laird Ferguson not having wives yet in their twenties is due to diffidence and a poor upbringing rather than a hostility to marrying. Indeed, the reluctance to marry and desire to do things right on their part is one of the more praiseworthy aspects of the book, and the authors are so clueless about morality that they present this as a problem and not as a very good thing.
This book is between 350 and 400 pages and consists of several days in a cold Scottish winter where the childless laird Taran Ferguson goes to an elite party and seeks to kidnap three young women for himself and his two unmarried nephews, of course managing to kidnap an angry Earl and a somewhat poor but lovely and practical Scottish lass as well, who naturally end up being the first couple who end up together to remove the “spares” from the romantic drama that ensues. The plot involves people being forced together who end up finding suitable partners because of the press of circumstances and struggle over issues of self-esteem and the corrosive effects of reputation and character. Unfortunately, while the people in this book are all deeply interested in maintaining a good reputation, none of them are hugely honorable, something that is revealed over and over again as these characters sneak off to engage in all kinds of fornication with each other while fretting about compromising positions, all this in a world where dancing multiple times with the same partner and having a conversation with them that focuses on them is viewed as being a step just before proposing marriage.
Ultimately, a reader gets out of this novel probably what they would expect. Scotland is used as a more barbaric and backward area, there are plenty of jokes about kilts and about those wacky Scottish ways of kidnapping potential brides, and in general Scotland is viewed as being a remote and backcountry area for rural gentrification and ridicule by more cosmopolitan types. As is usually the case, the authors appear to have little understanding or interest in moral restraint when they can have gentleman undressing women and cupping various parts of their bodies. And the story of the book is kept going largely because of misunderstanding, because the readers understand that these people want to hop in each other’s beds and get to acting like man and wife but they cannot be bothered to engage in a conversation about their mutual interest because they are apparently clueless to each other and incompetent at communication. If this is a realistic portrayal of how clueless contemporary men and women are at falling in love, and it is, it does not make for an enjoyable read, necessarily, since it has more to say about our own times than about the times in which the book is set.