This one actually only rates 3.25 from me.
Isabel and Toby are somehow the title for this series, and their story really doesn't deserve to be elevated that high. While I still love Dare's writing, I was disappointed in several aspects of this book.
First of all, Dare loses one star right off the top for squeezing Joss and Hetta's HEA into a tiny side story. Their back stories and their personalities, the difficulties inherent in an interracial marriage during the Regency era, are enough to fill a whole book. This felt rushed, forced and, frankly, like a cop-out. At least give them a novella fer cryin' out loud.
Sorry to rant, but they're two of the most interesting characters in the whole series and I think they got ripped off.
Okay, that huge mistake aside, I didn't like the heroine all that much throughout. She had her moments. She was funny at times with her inner thoughts, but mostly she was just tedious. She's very devout and pours her energy into charity work, which unfortunately makes her pretty darn judgmental and pushy. Devotion to civic duty doesn't have to make one that way, but that's the way she acted and it really hurt her story. Her history is interesting but, although we saw those inner thoughts and got some insight into the hell she'd experienced as a child, the hero really never does.
Toby's a nice, if vapid, hero. He's pretty dashing, saving everyone from ruin and potential serious injury or death. He comes off a bit selfish at times, but he's gone the extra mile to keep several people from being hurt badly. His need to keep his happy-go-lucky lifestyle is challenged, however, by his fiance/wife's demands that he help her change the world.
World-changers annoy me. Sorry. When someone sets out to "change the world" it's the most arrogant and narcissistic motive for whatever action they're taking. It's all about them. As if they have the ability or even the right to "change the world". There's a fine line between feeding the poor and the poor feeding your ego. I thought Isabel crossed that line a few times.
HOWEVER -- I do love Dare's writing. I was frustrated because I felt this couple was well-suited, but I never got to see their true personalities outside of their inner thoughts. When they do reconcile at the end it seems contrived. Like they just decided they had to be together, but I didn't see a rational thought process on getting there. It's not unromantic. It's just not as well put together as the other ones.
If this were the first book of Tessa Dare's I'd picked up, I still would go for the backlist, and I'm still very much looking forward to her next release, so I guess it can't be all that bad. It's just that I know for a fact she can do better and good characters were not served as well as they could have been. :^(