My Rating: 2.5 / 5.0
Before I start my review I need to post a disclaimer: the author sent me a free Kindle copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Lily Wellstone is a single woman in Regency England, living in Exeter. She decides to travel to Bitterward Estate, near Sheffield, to be with her friend Eugenia, who is recently widowed and terribly depressed. We discover that Lily was once passionately in love, but that her lover was killed in battle. On the way to Bitterward she encounters a gypsy who gives her a medallion that will allegedly cause her to find her heart’s desire. At Bitterward she encounters the Duke of Mountjoy and they soon find a burning attraction to each other. However, she never wants to fall in love again and he is almost engaged to one of his neighbors.
I have to admit that I am not a great fan of regular Romance, but I enjoyed Mary Balogh’s ‘A Summer to Remember’ so much that I decided to give this book a chance. This brought two things into sharp focus: firstly, I don’t think I am the target audience for this type of generic Romance; and, secondly, Mary Balogh is obviously one of the better writers in this genre and it is unfortunate that Ms Jewel’s book does not stand up to the comparisons that I naturally I drew between them. This is not a bad book, but neither is it very good, which is a shame because I could tell that the author has a real love of this period and of England in general. However, her research was not as thorough as it could have been and, because I am English, there were several huge mistakes that leapt off the pages at me.
My sense of misgiving began with the very first page: the story is set in ‘Sheffieldshire’. Now, I have no problem with books set in imagined places or areas of the UK, but this seemed like a totally unnecessary fabrication since Yorkshire is such a famous and old county. The first chapter confirmed my sinking feelings by showing the author’s lack of understanding of several aspects of life in Regency England. First, Miss Wellstone has travelled the several hundred miles from Exeter unescorted. Jane Austen’s Mrs Bennet would have had a fainting fit at the very thought of a young single woman travelling that distance alone. Then she is escorted up to her bedroom by the Duke, not a servant, which is just laughable: I know that we are told that the Duke was a humble farmer before he inherited his title, but he should have been killed in the rush of staff trying to prevent such a massive faux pas. Ms Jewel goes to great lengths to describe the gothic architecture of the house, which I assume that she has studied in depth, but I find it beyond belief that such a house has a main staircase that is not wide enough for two people to walk abreast: this would have been modified to present a grand entrance hall, just as we are told some of the other rooms have been updated.
These and other mistakes litter the book. For example, there is little feeling that there are servants present. This would have been a great way for the family’s newfound status to be shown, as they would have been uncomfortable to be waited upon and not used to treating the staff as part of the furniture. Lily ‘serves’ tea to the family in several scenes: as the aristocracy did virtually nothing for themselves, why would they be presented with a buffet style meal? Any food would have been finger food, and a guest would certainly not make up plates for everyone else. But then, our characters don’t really behave as if they belong in the Regency period. There is none of the dance of manners and formality that we see in Ms Balogh’s work: again, I could accept that the Duke and his family might not have excellent manners, but Miss Wellstone most certainly should have. Indeed, the family should have been struggling with their instinctive deference to a true lady in their midst and being overly polite and proper. Instead, we have joking and fooling about from the moment she meets them: again, I can hear Mrs Bennet feeling light-headed. I could go on, talking about the inappropriateness of a French chef and serving brie a mere year after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, and, yes, I know that I call a BandAid a ‘plaster’, but they were not in use in 1816 . . . but I feel that I have given you a feel for how difficult it was for me to look beyond these faults and examine the underlying book.
The very fact that Lily and Mountjoy meet in the first scene and that she is immediately pinned to the floor by his presence, made me sigh with disappointment. From then on the plot progresses in a very predictable way as they fight with and then give in to their obsession for one another. The obstruction to their ‘happy ever after’ is of their own construction: much as we find in ‘A Summer to Remember”. However, these objections do not really feel in character and are overcome far too easily for them to be all that interesting. The principal characters themselves are moderately interesting, but do not really progress, unless you count buying more fashionable waistcoats as progress. We do not have the massive development that Ms Balogh’s protagonists are led through, which makes them too two dimensional for me to really care too much about them. In fact, the only character that shows any development is poor bereaved Eugenia. However, she is a very minor character who is simply there to move the story along, unlike the wonderfully detailed Lady Freja. This paucity of character development led the ‘surprise’ ending to Mountjoy’s intended engagement to be eye-rollingly predictable from the first time the two individuals involved were shown together.
The plot was either predictable or strangely contrived: there is a whole section where Miss Wellstone is ‘outrageously independent’ and insists on getting some of the footmen to dig up part of the grounds. At first, I thought this would lead to some accident or mysterious happening that would allow character development, but, no, nothing as exciting as that: they dig stuff up, Lily gets heat stroke, Mountjoy looks worried in a manly way, the stuff is mostly forgotten about and has no significance. There is simply no subtlety or nuance here: we are told, rather than shown and this does not make an interesting read in my opinion. I am told that Romance readers like to know what to expect, but that is no excuse for making the books dull. We all know that Kit and Lauren will finally end up together, but the great enjoyment of that book comes from the wonderful depiction of Regency life and language that Ms Balogh lays before us, plus the amazing characters and significant events that influence them so that they are changed forever.
In short, this was a reminder of why I struggle with the Romance genre in most cases. I have found reviews of some of Ms Jewel's other works on my friends' blogs, and they have really enjoyed them, so I am happy to accept that this may be more of a problem with me than with her writing.
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