Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
Sebastian Grey is handsome, charming and welcome everywhere in polite society because he is the sole male heir of his uncle, the Earl of Newbury, and if said uncle dies before he's able to father more male offspring, Sebastian will be the new earl. Of course, Lord Newbury hates his nephew and is doing all he can to find a nice, fertile young woman to bear him more children to prevent just this from happening. So Sebastian could be the best catch a young lady could snag herself, or a match-making mama's worst nightmare. He also harbours a secret, something he can't even tell his best friends about. Sebastian is the author of a series of ridiculously popular, rather lurid Gothic novels. No one knows that the reclusive Sarah Gorely is in fact Sebastian Grey, even his cousin Sir Harry, who's translating the novels into Russian.
Annabell Winslow is the eldest of eight children and she's been taken to London by her grandparents, Lord and Lady Vickers, because Lord Newbury, their close friend, has determined that Annabel's lush curves (scurrilous rumours say she's so fertile, birds sing when she comes near) means she's perfect to be his new bride. That both her mother and grandmother had a huge amount of children doesn't hurt. Since Annabel's mother is now a widow, and money is rather tight in their family, Annabel really does need to marry someone well off to provide for her family. She just really doesn't want to marry the gross, old lech Newbury, who's literally old enough to be her grandfather. After having been accosted by him at a party, she flees into the gardens to get away, and stumbles over Sebastian (recovering from an assignation, because he's a rake, don't you know). The two start to form a friendship, without realising the identity of the other, or their relative relationship to Lord Newbury.
When Sebastian finally discovers that the lovely Miss Winslow is in fact, the woman his uncle is intending to marry, he decides to stay far away from her. But since Annabel's reputation could be completely destroyed if both Sebastian and Lord Winslow shun her, he decides that he will pretend to court her, just so that she won't become a complete social pariah. Of course, the more time the two spend together, the less likely it is that Annabel is going to want to accept the uncle rather than the nephew. But will marrying Sebastian Grey mean that Annabel won't have the money she needs to support her family?
Sebastian Grey first appears in Julia Quinn's What Happens in London, where he pretty much steals every scene that he's in. The most memorable scene is probably the one where he reads aloud from one of his own works, Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, with such enthusiasm and drama that he makes three housemaids cry, and falls off a table and dislocates his shoulder. The Gothic novel in question is read by Harry and Olivia in that book and certainly helps their courtship along. I don't actually know if Julia Quinn intended all along for Sebastian to be revealed as the author of these novels (which I so desperately wish existed in real life - I would read ALL of them!), or whether that was a later development when she wrote this book. Normally when romance heroes have deep, dark secrets, it's not that they are the best-selling authors of Gothic melodramas.
Sebastian may seem happy-go-lucky, but the reason he started writing in the first place is because he suffers from insomnia, and still suffers after-effects from being a sniper during the Napoleonic wars. He tends to freeze if there are unexpected loud noises near him and he very successfully hides his inner demons from those around him. Even those very close to him believe him to be entirely carefree and a bit blithely irresponsible, and it's quite clear that this public image really hurts Sebastian, although he very rarely lets his true feeling show. That he's able to show more of his real self to Annabel is clearly one of the reason why he's so drawn to her.
Annabel is dutiful and responsible and knows that she should be pragmatic rather than romantic, but no reader can fault her for not wanting to marry a creepy old lech who sees her only as a brood mare. Normally Quinn's books are all froth and light-heartedness, but this one features Lord Newbury actually full on assaulting Annabel early in the book, it's quite clear we're not supposed to be sympathetic to him in any way. The fact that he is such an outright, almost mustachio-twirling villain in this book is one of the reasons I can't give this book five full stars. There is no good reason given for his intense dislike of his nephew, he just plain hates Sebastian, and will do pretty much anything in his power to prevent the young man from inheriting. I would have preferred it if Quinn could have supplied an explanation for this vehement hate, and maybe nuanced the characterisation of him just a little bit. But no, he's just an unpleasant, overbearing old creep.
Most of this book is full of Quinn's trademark wit and sparkly dialogue. Both Annabel and Sebastian are tremendously fond of making mental lists, making the title actually plot-relevant, not just a play on a popular movie title. Because Sebastian is a writer, there's a whole lot of meta humour about what makes for a good and entertaining book throughout, which makes for a delightful change from your standard "man meets woman, they fall in love, there are complications, they solve things and live happily ever after". As always, there is a great cast of supporting characters, from Annabel's timid cousin Louisa (who I'm sad has not gotten a romance of her own), Sir Harry and Lady Olivia from What Happens in London and Lady Vickers, Annabel's drunken grandmother. I suspect most people would not rate this romance as highly as I do, but what can I say, I'm a sucker for a handsome man who writes Gothic romance.