In the past two years, I’ve slowly been dipping my toes into historical romances, and now more than ever, I’m finding that I really like them! Up to now, I had only read four (two by Evie Dunmore and two by Harper St. George), but in August I bought a couple more. I was in need of something light and fun, and To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters seemed like just the ticket. It was also one of my most anticipated books of April this year, so I was excited to finally get to it. Reader, I adored this book and I think it’s safe to say that I truly, completely love historical romances.
|To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters|
|Series||The Regency Vows (#2)|
|Number of Pages||342|
|Format I Read||Paperback|
|Original Publication Date||April 6, 2021|
The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.
After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.
Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.
First and foremost, To Love and to Loathe is the funniest historical romance I’ve read to date. It’s a sort of enemies-to-lovers trope, but the rivalry between Diana and Jeremy is built more on playful and witty jabs rather than anything malicious or hurtful. Nearly every scene these two are in is loaded with hilarious banter and awkward situations. Throughout the book, I was continuously laughing out loud and making note of some of the funnier scenes so I could revisit them. This book is a joy to read, treading mostly in light fun (though some heavier themes do arise; I’ll get to that shortly).
For me, funny banter only works if the characters have chemistry, and Diana and Jeremy have plenty of that! It’s been said that opposites attract, but in To Love and to Loathe, I’d say that two similar characters can be a perfect fit, too. Jeremy and Diana are both flirts, witty conversationalists, and inclined to put on a lighthearted face to hide their deeper emotions. Their numerous similarities are what make them work so well together. They seem to have the same sense of humor and the same quick minds. Even so, perhaps they’re too similar to recognize how alike they really are. They’re blinded by each other’s fake fronts for a while, but eventually, they start to notice the truth that lies beneath.
Beyond the comical scenes, I also love how Diana and Jeremy are able to be more tender with each other. Eventually, they start sharing sides of themselves that they hide from everyone, and it leads to some much needed understanding. In Jeremy’s case, his long-buried issues surrounding his older brother, who died in an accident six years earlier, is deeply emotional. In Diana’s case, we see how a patriarchal society has shaped her life in contrast to men (like Jeremy, a marquess), who enjoy so much more power and freedom. These two can empathize with each other and help one another, giving new dimension to their growing relationship.
Based on the premise of To Love and to Loathe, I went into this book expecting it to get steamy fairly early on. However, I was surprised at how Jeremy and Diana kept putting it off. The result is a bit more slow burn than you might anticipate – though their kisses are steamy enough on their own. For all their focus on teaching lovemaking skills, Jeremy and Diana spend a lot of time simply getting to know each other, becoming intimate in an altogether different – and more valuable – way. This is what creates the foundation for their blossoming romance (even if they don’t recognize it as such!).
The four historical romances I’ve read by Evie Dunmore and Harper St. George are set later on, in the 1870s and 1880s, and feature bluestockings and much discussion of women’s rights. In contrast, To Love and to Loathe is set in 1817 and offers somewhat less focus on women’s rights. Diana doesn’t identify as a bluestocking, yet despite that, I can see feminist elements in her. She often points out how foolish men are and ponders how unfair it is that women don’t have more respect and control. Her opinions and certain actions seem progressive for the time, even if she doesn’t go so far as to advocate for women’s political rights.
Instead of 19th century politics, To Love and to Loathe fills out the romance with a different type of side plot: a lot of attention to the lives of other characters. Diana seems to be a gossipy and meddlesome sort of woman, and her sport of choice is playing matchmaker. It’s equally cringey and hilarious when she continuously pushes Lady Helen at Jeremy, very much against his own wishes. While that helps move along Diana and Jeremy’s story, this novel also gives nods to the previous and next books in the series.
Case in point: Throughout the chapters, we get plenty of mentions of Violet and Audley having just come out of an epic spat, Violet having faked an illness to win back her husband. (That was book one of this series.) Luckily, the two are now almost disgustingly amorous with one another. And looking ahead to the next book in the series, To Love and to Loathe offers abundant setup for Emily and Julian Belfry and their impending marriage of convenience. That will be explored more once To Marry and to Meddle arrives next spring, and I can hardly wait.
(Side note: This is the second time I’ve barreled into a series on its second installment, having completely missed this first in the series. I did that earlier this year, reading Sara Desai’s The Dating Plan without first having read The Marriage Game. Now I’ve done it again: I haven’t yet read the first Regency Vows book, To Have and to Hoax, though now I think I’ll have to go back and get it!)
Slightly related: Shoutout to Jeremy’s grandmother, the dowager marchioness. She may be old, but she’s shrewd and a total riot. She may be my favorite character here!
In any case, although there are numerous asides to shine a light on other characters in the Regency Vows world, Diana and Jeremy carry the show splendidly. I adored this pair – from their playful banter to their more tender moments – and found this to be a delightful novel. I only wish we got more time with these two – whether in the form of another chapter or in an epilogue months into the future.
To Love and to Loathe is a fun, witty, and breezy romance that brings healthy doses of humor and intelligence to the historical romance genre. It’s light and quick, but it will also leave its mark on your heart. This is the second in Martha Waters’s Regency Vows series. Personally, I’ll need to go back and read its first installment, To Have and to Hoax, right away. The third book, To Marry and to Meddle, is due out next April, and I’ll be reading that as soon as it’s out.
About the Author
Martha Waters was born and raised in sunny South Florida, where she spent her childhood reading lots of British children’s books and scribbling away in notebooks. She studied history and international studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she also obtained her master’s degree in library science. She is the author of the historical rom-coms To Have and to Hoax, To Love and to Loathe, and To Marry and to Meddle (scheduled for publication in 2022). By day, she works as a children’s librarian in coastal Maine, and loves sundresses, gin cocktails, and traveling.