This is very much my sort of book. Slow, gentle and engrossing, the characters have time to live and breathe and the plot to unwind without haste. It’s not for those who like a lot of angst and brow-beating – everything here is much lower key than that. I disliked a previous Klassen (The Silent Governess) for its overblown melodrama, but this one is refreshingly different.
Here’s the premise: Mariah Aubrey has been banished from her family after a scandal (it’s presumed sexual, but the details aren’t revealed until quite late in the book). She’s given a home in a disused gatehouse by a distant relation with a single servant to support her, and essentially abandoned by her family to get by as best she can. With no other income, she resorts to writing novels in secret. This is such a standard trope of Regencies these days, but here the author makes the comparison with Jane Austen explicit by quoting her several times in chapter headings.
The hero is Captain Matthew Bryant, returning to England successful and wealthy after the Napoleonic wars, and here again the Austen comparison is blatant, for this is none other than a thinly disguised Captain Wentworth. Unlike Miss Austen’s hero, however, Captain Bryant has not forgotten his first love who rejected his suit, and is determined to demonstrate to her that he is now eminently suitable by leasing the estate wherein our heroine’s gatehouse resides.
There is a complicated side plot involving the owner of the estate Bryant leases, an array of minor characters divided neatly into the good and evil camps, a local workhouse with surprisingly wholesome inhabitants, and a shedload of coincidences abounding. However, the headline romance is rock solid, with the obvious attraction between the two tempered by Bryant’s grim determination to win back his former love, and Mariah’s murky past. I very much enjoyed the slow build of the relationship between them, and their interactions felt very real.
I was quite confused by the gatehouse itself. Since it became a plot point, I’d have liked one feature explained in detail early on – that even though the gate alongside is securely locked, it’s possible to get from one side to the other by going through the gatehouse. There’s a door on each side. That wasn’t at all clear to me until very late in the book (I’m used to gates that have a lodge inside the gates and separate from them), so it confused me to no end when people seemed to magically pass through the locked gate.
Towards the end, the subplots devolve into melodrama rather, there are far too many minor hiccups between our star-crossed lovers (once they realise This Is Love, I like them to just get on with it and not dither about) and the epilogue is stuffed with completely implausible and sugar-sweet conversions, but I still enjoyed the story very much. Four stars.