This is an author I’ve been meaning to catch up with for a while, but this is the first book of hers I’ve got round to reading and it was an interesting one. There are not many authors with the nerve to tackle a hero like Anthony Russell, the Earl of Lever. He’s a man completely uncomfortable in social settings, never knowing the right thing to say, honest to the point of bluntness and oblivious to the subtle nuances of conversation. The author sets it down to a neglectful childhood, but I’d have said it was some variant of autism myself. Whatever the cause, Anthony is very believably portrayed.
And in Julia Price, we have another unusual character – not the customary debutante, nor even the almost-on-the-shelf spinster, but a widow with a young son. And not a rich widow, either, for Julia is virtually destitute, dependent on her grandmother’s charity. And there’s one more element to Julia’s life that makes her unusual, for her husband was a violent man. So we have two very interesting characters, and a highly original pairing for a Regency novel.
This was my second book on the trot to feature Bath as a backdrop, and again the author makes the city and its attractions very believable. Less believable (to me) is the premise that Anthony has to marry before his thirtieth birthday or lose a large part of his fortune. I understand the plot benefits of such a deadline, but anyone reading a regular diet of Regency romances would imagine that all fathers of the era were devoted to wildly eccentric wills. However, be that as it may, the author at least understands the legal constraints, so the title and entailed fortune are still Anthony’s, but if he fails in this task, his younger step-brother will be a great deal better off. His step-mother conforms to the conventions of wicked step-mothers everywhere by doing her level best to ensure that her own son inherits as much as possible.
And so the stage is set, and, once Julia’s grandmother and Anthony’s grandfather meet up and rekindle an old friendship, it’s only a matter of time before the two principals are hurtling towards the altar. Naturally there are a few wrinkles along the way, driven by minor characters and Julia’s son, but the eventual outcome is never in doubt. Julia’s abusive husband almost comes between them at one point but this is easily swept aside. In fact, I felt too little was made of her history, and perhaps it could have been used to add an additional layer of depth to the story. The real obstacle – Anthony’s social awkwardness – is really the only thing keeping them apart. I’m not sure that the way Anthony rises to the challenges before him at the end of the book is completely convincing, but by that point I was willing to go along with it and cheer him on.
There were a few niggles with the writing – not complaints, but stylistic choices of the author’s that didn’t quite sit right with me. For instance, a line like, ‘“I wouldn’t do that,” he warned…’ instead of the cleaner ‘he said’. Sometimes that felt like repetition, and I found it distracting. And too often we’d be told that it was the first time a character had said or done something, which felt too much like telling instead of showing for my taste. Purely a personal preference issue, though, and otherwise the writing was excellent. I only spotted one historical inaccuracy, in a mention of legal adoption – not a thing until well after the Regency. Informal adoption was commonplace, but there was no legal process for it until 1926. But that’s a minor detail.
This was an interesting and brave story from Audrey Harrison, which I enjoyed despite a few minor niggles and will certainly be reading more of her work in the future. A good four stars.