So far, so intriguing. But there’s a lot that grated on me. For instance, the heroine, Louisa Evans and her younger brother and sister live in a small cottage alone. As in, no servants. The brother spends much of his day taking lessons from the local vicar, the sister is tinkering in the garden, and the heroine earns a few bob sewing nice dresses for the daughter of the family who reduced them to penury. Erm… so who carries buckets of coal around the house? Blackleads the grates? Cooks the meals? Feeds the chickens and the pig? Scrubs the pans? Heats all that water for the weekly bath? Carries water in from the well, for that matter? Who sweeps the carpets (on their knees, with a dustpan and brush, and yes, it needed to be done every day because of all that coal dust)? A little light sewing? I don’t think so.
I also get very tired of this trope that a man (a marquess!) can be railroaded into marrying by a determined grandmother – or anyone, really. No, really he can’t, and can we not for once have a hero who stands up to his relations’ manipulations and tells them where they get off. He holds all the cards, after all, and could turf granny out of the house if he so chooses (which was normal practice anyway – that’s what dower houses were invented for).
Anyway, our two protagonists get married amidst a welter of historical inaccuracies which we’ll gloss over, and the marquess introduces his bride to society at the grand ball granny’s organised, thinking he’s going to announce his betrothal. One up to the marquess. But then they spend the wedding night at the bride’s cottage, for reasons which are unclear to me. I’d imagined that this was intended to create privacy so that his friend can deflower the bride, but no. So I don’t really know what the point of that was, except as an plot-driven excuse to throw the newly-weds into greater intimacy and test the marquess’s resolve not to sire an heir himself. Because of course, he has one of his turns and they end up in bed together and – resolve duly tested.
The illness runs through the whole book, popping up at convenient moments and disappearing when it might disrupt the resolve-testing (because, yes, the marquess’s resolve is tested multiple times, in fairly graphic detail), and if there’s a single reader who’s surprised by the revelations surrounding the illness, I’d be astonished. Some of the last chapter drama was telegraphed almost from the start. But the tricky situation between the marquess, his wife and the friend roped in to father the heir is nicely done, although I did think a lot of unnecessary angst could have been avoided if they’d all sat down right away and had a nice chat over a cup of tea. However, it works well enough.
A good read, well-written and without too many disturbing anachronisms (and what I found was minor and forgivable). Four stars.