This is (I think) the tenth book in the Amberley Chronicles series, set in 1844, although they seem to be largely stand-alone works, only loosely connected. Typically, I’ve only read the first of the series, The Impostor Debutante, before this, but I didn’t have any trouble reading this one, or feel that I’d missed anything important. There were a number of characters mentioned that perhaps readers of the whole series would have recognised, but it worked fine for me.
The premise is that still-unmarried Violet Ellsworthy is bequeathed a cottage by a previously unsuspected relative with a somewhat dodgy past. She goes to have a look at her inheritance and sort through her relative’s papers (finding some steamy stuff amongst them), and along the way bumps into Simon, Lord Rillingford, who has been accused of raping and abandoning the daughter of local gentry. Violet and Simon are immediately attracted, but first they have to find out who fathered the girl’s baby.
The characters here are both sensible, likable people, who behave in perfectly rational ways, and are obviously well-suited romantically. The writing is excellent, capturing the essence of the era without being unreadably verbose or complex. There’s some mention of sex (the deceased relative had a very lively time of it) and the rape is discussed, but nothing graphic. There’s a real historical feel to the background, so the author has obviously done her research. I wondered a little at the attitude of the local quality, who seemed almost uniformly to believe the pregnant girl, and disbelieve the local lord of the manor, because of some unfortunate dalliance in his past. Personally, it doesn’t usually go well to call the highest-ranking man of the neighbourhood a liar, even behind his back, but it’s a small point.
If I have a quibble at all, it’s that both the romance and the mystery of the raped girl are resolved rather too easily. I’d expected some extra layers of complexity or at least an unexpected twist at the end, but everything came out just as I’d anticipated, which was a bit disappointing. And after that, there’s a certain amount of jumping about the countryside to visit this relative or that, nervously informing them of the impending marriage, only to have everybody happy as sandboys about it. So any possible tension dissipated very quickly. However, this part of the book might be of greater interest to those who’ve followed the series from the start and know these characters well.
Overall, a very enjoyable read, recommended for those who like a clean, authentic Victorian read, only let down for my personal taste by the somewhat flat ending. Four stars.