I love this historic romance writer. Since I read one of her first books, How to Marry a Marquis, in 1999, she’s been on my automatic to-buy list. I liked this novel too, but I’m torn about it.
The good stuff:
The author has a wicked sense of humor. Some scenes, like a play staged by a bunch of the heroine’s younger cousins, are hysterically funny.
The author also has an acute sense of drama, without spilling into melodramatic mush. The chapters where the heroine discovers that her beloved husband deceived her, are heart-wrenching.
The heroine Iris is almost a living, breathing woman. She is not a great beauty, just reasonably pretty, but she is smart and observant, with a firm grasp of reality. She is also compassionate, to a degree, and stubbornly clings to her dignity – not the easiest thing to do for a society woman in England in the first half of the 19th century. Her common sense is always on the forefront, and even when she bows to the inevitable, she doesn’t stop searching for a better solution.
The pacing is swift, but the narration balances easily between dialog, inner monologs, and action. There is a little bit of everything in this story, and the clean beautiful writing makes this book a pleasure to read.
The plot is original and well-developed, a classical romance with a twist, but the entire tale is based on a secret and a deception. And here I come to my objectionable points.
The bad stuff:
First, I dislike secrets kept from readers to raise the tension, and that’s what this book is all about. It’s one thing when a character keeps secrets from another character. But when the author keeps secrets from her readers, I consider it bad taste in writing, especially if the secret is hinted at again and again, as the plot progresses. In the end, I guessed the secret long before it was revealed to Iris, but I still dislike this fiction technique.
Second, I hate the hero, Sir Richard. His secret scheme is abominable, and his deception unforgivable. He treats his young wife too shabbily, like a property with no choices of her own, required by law to obey her husband in everything. It’s compliant with the time period of the novel – England, year 1825 – but it makes him repulsive to my 21st century eyes.
His protestations of love for her fall on deaf ears in my case. I don’t believe him and I don’t understand how Iris could forgive him so easily. My dislike of the hero flavored my perception of the entire novel. I would’ve lowered the rating even more, if the writing was not so good.