Here’s the premise: When Royal Navy man Julius Vale met Antonia Temple, it seemed like a match made in heaven. They were soon betrothed but were driven apart by circumstances that only gradually become clear. Now he’s retired from the navy as Captain Sir Julius Vale, and has returned to his old Blackhaven home with a multitude of siblings in tow, not all of them legitimate. He’s thirty-six and never got over the loss of Antonia, so he’s reluctant to accompany the siblings to a ball. He plans to leave as soon as they’re settled, walk home along the beach within sight of his beloved sea and have a quiet evening. But just as he’s slipping outside, he sees the last person he expected – Antonia.
Their early encounters are filled with anger and pain, but there’s still something between them and they are inexorably drawn together. He discovers that her husband is dead, but that a poor marriage settlement has left her in difficulties, so she’s taken a position as paid companion to a wealthy lady, who travels about with her brother, and is presently in Blackhaven to take the waters. And as they circle warily round each other, they discover the truth: that each of them thinks the other broke it off ten years before, and that they have been repeatedly lied to.
Inevitably, they end up reigniting the same passion that drew them together in the first place, and this time there’s nothing to stop them from marrying and being idyllically happy for the rest of their lives… or is there? Well, of course, things are never that simple, especially as they reach this stage at about the halfway point in the book. From there onwards, their enemies circle ever closer around them, trying to drive them apart, there’s a subplot involving stolen horses and worse, and that marriage settlement is significant, too.
It’s great page-turning stuff, but I have to confess it’s all wildly improbable. I had a particular problem with Antonia. Firstly, when the man she loves apparently jilts her without a word, what does she do but immediately go off and marry someone else. Who in their right mind does that? Even if you believe the web of lies being spun around you, why rush into marriage with another man? Marriage was literally a life sentence in those days. The only rational reason is because she was pregnant, and for a while I wondered about that, but it doesn’t seem to have been an issue. Her parents told her to marry, so she did.
And then, when her present happiness is about to be snatched away from her, again she does what she’s told, and, what is worse, she jilts Julius without a word all over again. What kind of cruelty is that? To do all over again the thing that hurt him so badly the first time. And even though she comes round fairly quickly and starts thinking of ways out of her dilemma, I just can’t forgive her for not telling him at once what was going on.
Julius, on the other hand, is everything a hero should be. His huge family is intriguing (I’m assuming that all the siblings will get their own story eventually, which I look forward to reading). For those who read through the very long original Blackhaven series, lots of the characters from that pop up here in cameo parts, but it’s not necessary to remember them all (fortunately for me).
I very much liked the way the whole plot, in all its disparate parts, came together at the end very elegantly. I didn’t notice any historical errors, although I was a bit surprised that one character managed to ‘pretend’ to be a solicitor (and was more likely to be called an attorney in those days), and the guardianship of the child was airbrushed away at the end. However, I was very pleased to note that the author has discovered that Blackhaven would have been situated in the county of Cumberland in Regency times, not the modern invention of Cumbria. There’s one sex scene, not particularly graphic, and a few references elsewhere. Just one other grumble – I would have liked a list of all the siblings with their ages. It was really hard to get them straight.
If I were judging this book just on plausibility, it would probably rate three stars, but I enjoyed it so much, tearing through it in only two sessions, that it merits a good four stars, and I look forward to whatever comes next.