TW: Sexual assault
Joanna Shupe is one of my auto-buy authors, so I was bummed when The Heiress Hunt fell flat for me. This first book in her Fifth Avenue Rebels series promised a friends-to-lovers romance, which I adore, but the hero’s inability to grow or change left me lukewarm at the end.
Harrison Archer is the second son to a tycoon and grew up in a pretty awful household. While his older brother, Teddy, was the golden child, Harrison’s parents never saw anything but flaws in him. The highlight of his childhood were his summers spent in Newport when he could escape his parents and run wild with his neighbor, Madeline Webster. The two became best friends, and eventually Harrison fell in love with Maddie, intending to court her when her Season began. Then he overheard her tell a friend she thought of him as nothing more than a brother.
Immediately after this Harrison got into a fight with his father (he caught his dad sexually assaulting a maid and called the police on him) that led to him being disinherited and cut off from the family. Harrison does what any alpha-male romance hero would: he moves to Paris, builds his own fortune, and quietly starts buying shares of the family business so he can destroy them.
Personally I would have eaten a lot of ice cream and cried, but hey, each to their own.
When the book opens Harrison is back. His dad is dead (no real loss there) and “perfect” Teddy has run the family business into the ground like he was planning the next Fyre Festival or something. Despite the fact that they were super duper shitty to them, Teddy and their mother both expect Harrison to marry an heiress and save the family.
So now that he’s back Harrison runs into Maddie again. He’s still in love with her and mentions that, “hey, I’ve got to marry an heiress because my family is broke now” and she, being a good friend, offers to host a house party in Newport where he can meet all of her friends like some weird version of The Bachelor only oddly less problematic. Harrison meanwhile is determined to make Maddie fall in love with him. Maddie is currently engaged to a duke, but Harrison knows engagements can be broken.
This was the part I didn’t get. Maddie and Harrison are next door neighbors and old friends, so it makes little sense that he’d need the house party ruse to spend time with her. He’s already in her social circle and her family knows him and likes him. The addition of the other women and Maddie playing matchmaker was unneeded. It felt to me like this section of the novel was setting up potential sequels and introducing secondary characters, but it wasn’t necessary for the hero/heroine’s journey. As a result it stalled out the pacing and caused the book to drag a bit.
Midway through the book, Harrison accidentally compromises Maddie (they kissed! My gods!) and they wind up having to get married. Maddie didn’t love the duke so it’s no big deal, I guess. Except for him, probably.
I liked the second half of the book better because it’s about Maddie and Harrison figuring out their relationship in the context of being married and I enjoy marriage of convenience stories.
The other element I enjoyed was that Maddie is a professional lawn tennis player. She’s training for Nationals and she has her own passion and ambitions. Harrison is supportive of this and we get lots of details about gilded-age lawn tennis. I found myself Googling details like what Maddie’s tennis outfit would have looked like and how the game has changed over the years. It was a fun little rabbit hole to go down.
What ultimately made me disappointed in the book, though, was that Harrison never grew as a character. The conflict in their relationship was that Harrison kept secrets from Maddie and was controlling when it came to information that was relevant to her life. He doesn’t tell her that he’s rich all on his own, nor that his shitty family threatened her when he bought out the business. Maddie routinely tells him that they have to be partners in the relationship or it won’t work, and he continues to withhold important details.
When the black moment comes, Harrison’s actions, which supposedly redeem him in Maddie’s eyes, are still controlling and presumptive. Neither his awareness nor his behavior changed, and I couldn’t figure out why Maddie forgave him rather than see his heavy-handedness as further evidence he was unable to meet her halfway.
This frustrated me as a reader because throughout the entire novel Harrison was making choices on Maddie’s behalf without consulting her. It felt paternalistic and condescending. In order for me to really like him, he had to grow to a point where he viewed and then treated Maddie as a person with agency, capable of making her own choices. Instead he repeats past behavior, takes action on her behalf, and repeatedly assumes he knows what she wants/needs without actually communicating with her.
Dudes making choices on a woman’s behalf without consulting her is not a theme I enjoy. The fact that Harrison continued to do so right up to the end of the book and never seemed to understand what was wrong with it made me grind my teeth.
Even though I was “meh” on The Heiress Hunt it won’t stop me from buying the next book in the series, and there’s a lot of sequel bait I’m curious about. It wasn’t my favorite novel of Shupe’s, but I’m hoping the next book in the Fifth Avenue Rebels works better for me.