Clean romance

Edenbrooke - Julianne Donaldson

A charming romantic story, set in Regency England, this novel has a banner ‘Proper Romance’. I guess it means romance without sex, which is what it was, and the lack of sex scenes actually enhanced the tale for me.

The heroine Marianne is young, naive, and very proper. The hero Philip is charismatic and masculine, a rescuing knight to the heroine’s damsel in distress. Both are vulnerable, while the bad guy is suitably evil. Of course, there is a misunderstanding between our lovebirds, and each is unsure of the other’s affection, but in the end, love triumphs and villainy is punished.

It sounds banal, and it is, in a way, but the banality of the protagonists, both sweet and flawless and utterly lovable, is overset by the high quality of writing. Both Marianne and Philip seem alive. I knew the story was mawkish and still I sympathized with its characters. I wanted them to trust their hearts. I cheered for them. What more does one need for a love story?    

The novel reminded me of Georgette Heyer’s stories. It has similar subtle humor and delightful lightness, although the plotline is much less original than most Heyer’s novels. No serious themes were discussed in the book and no social issues intruded, but sometimes, it feels restful and enjoyable to read without thinking.

Some readers might find this book sentimental, with the level of mushiness higher than good taste dictates, but maybe it is not so bad either. With the density of dark and gritty in modern fiction, a dash of fluffy melodrama is more than welcome.

A couple things bothered me about this book. One – playing fast and loose with historical accuracy. The action takes place in 1816, and the hero, Philip mentions his Grand Tour of Europe once or twice in the narrative. I don’t remember his exact age, but I think he is somewhere in his twenties. The Grand Tours custom stopped during Napoleonic wars, which according to wikipedia started in 1803, but the military actions rocked Europe years before that, and the traveling would’ve been unsafe throughout 1790s. Napoleon was banished to St Helena in 1815, the year of Waterloo. So when did Philip go to his Grand Tour, and how old was he then? Something doesn’t entirely add up there.

The other thing I disliked about this book – I mean disliked so much I feel compelled to mention it in a review – is its cover. It doesn’t invoke the sense of romance at all. When you look at it, you see a dull piece of historical fiction or maybe non-fiction. And the woman on the cover wears a modern dress. There is nothing there to suggest Regency at all. In fact, the cover is so vapid, I had to force myself to open the book. I’m glad I did.