This book was both better and worse than its predecessor. Better, because the historical accuracy was quite impressive – the author has done her homework in a number of areas. Worse, because somehow it lost the freshness and emotional depth I so enjoyed in the first book of the series.
Here’s the premise: Julia Devon is the little-regarded eldest daughter of a most unpleasant social-climbing man. Several years ago, Julia had her season in London, but failed to make the expected spectacular marriage because she fell in love with an unsuitable man. Now she’s twenty-three and heading for permanent spinsterhood. After her younger sister married for love (the story of The Social Tutor) their father is so incensed that he banishes Julia to Bath, to act as poor relation to Lady Heatherton, a cousin. There she meets again her spurned suitor, Nathanial Hastings, now a physician beginning to develop his medical practice.
And so all is in train for a second chance romance, and, to be perfectly honest, this book should have been about five chapters long, because there really were no serious obstacles to their marriage. They are both five years older and wiser, he has a profession which is capable of sustaining a wife, with care, all it required was for him to court her sensibly. But no, that would be too easy, so we have to resort to that time-honoured fudge, the Great Misunderstanding. He believes she never cared for him. She believes he no longer cares for her. And it takes a lot of pushing and shoving from their friends to get past that, and persuade them to open up to each other.
The side plot concerns Lady Heatherton and her husband, a baron, who is dying of consumption. It’s not a particularly cheerful background for a romance, although it was a common enough event in Regency times, being one of the major killers of the era. The process of dying takes much of the book, and the consequences of the death are clearly a setup for a future book, so matters remains unresolved here. Apart from that there is very little else going on. A benevolent widow pops up to offer timely advice and practical help. A couple of friends passed through that I would like to have seen more of, a lively and interesting pair but only bit players here. And one young lady seems to have no function other than to convince Julia that Nathanial is courting someone else, because she is never seen again.
And so to pedant’s corner. My only real complaint in this book is those pesky titles. The baron is Lord Heatherton, never Baron Heatherton and certainly never the Baron of Heatherton (barons aren’t ‘of’ anywhere, although they might be Baron Something of Somewhere). His wife is Lady Heatherton, nothing else. Her intimate friends may call her Virginia but she is never, ever Lady Virginia Macon, or Lady Virginia anything. Like her husband, she is never addressed or described as Baroness. It’s complicated, but there are whole books devoted to spelling out these details.
Apart from this, the author is to be commended for her research. There are lots of nice details here. I particularly liked the clock being stopped when the baron died, and the fake doors on the Royal Crescent. I wasn’t too sure about the doctor and his friend having a luncheon of soup and sandwiches at a Bath teashop, however. Luncheon wasn’t a common meal in the Regency, and were there teashops in those days? And again, supper was used in place of dinner. But these are small details.
The language used is a bit modern, and knocked me out of immersion quite a few times. I’m not sure a Regency physician would say that he wanted to be a ‘hands-on’ doctor, and his medical advice was terribly modern, with all that hand-washing, fresh air and sunshine, but then there are very few writers who have the stomach to write positively about leeches, cupping and the theories of humours. I noticed a smattering of wrongly used words (bore instead of bared, for instance) but it was much better than the first book.
I was looking forward to this story, because Julia was the interesting sister with the mysterious past in the first book. I wanted to see her get her HEA. But in the end it was rather a damp squib, which never really drew me in. The characters were pleasant enough, but too selfless and generous for words, and this was true of most of the minor characters, too. The baron’s younger brother is a fairly cardboard-cutout villain. And in the end, nothing very much happened, and there were no real obstacles to our hero and heroine. However, don’t let my nitpicks put you off. It was still an enjoyable read from an author with real talent, and I recommend it. Four stars.