Review: Miranda At Heart by Christina Dudley (2024)

Posted March 2, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This started unpromisingly, with the death of a favourite character, and then a big dump of backstory, but once it got into its stride it became a pure delight, with the sort of tangled emotional situations that Dudley does so well, with her trademark humour. I loved it!

Here’s the premise: patriarch Mr William Ellsworth, husband to four wives and father of the Ellsworth Assortment, is dead, and while I’m very sad about that, I’m also very pleased that his fourth wife, the meek and very wise Miranda, will find love now. She was the downtrodden sister of the local vicar, and accepted a companionable marriage to the much older Mr Ellsworth in a spirit of pragmatism. There’s nothing romantic about it, and one of the most moving moments in an earlier book is where she reads a love letter to one of her stepdaughters, and she’s a little envious because no one has ever written anything like that to her (and this despite the fact that she’s contentedly married).

Miranda is now a widow, with a good portion and a life interest in Hollowgate, the family home, which was left to the eldest daughter. This was a puzzle to me, because why does the estate not go to the eldest son, as is normal in the Regency? I seem to recall in Tyrone’s own book he was greatly in demand as a man who would one day be rich. I can only assume it’s because the house came from Mr Ellsworth’s first wife, and so was left to one of her children, and Tyrone was (presumably) the son of one of the other wives. But it seems odd.

So Miranda is now a rich woman, and as soon as she is out of mourning, she inevitably becomes a target for fortune hunters. Meanwhile, Colin Wolfe moves with his son into the neighbourhood, and his is the backstory that took up so much of the early chapters. But it is necessary, both to understand Colin himself and his desire to enjoy himself, and also to make sense of his quiet son. Colin made a loveless marriage in his youth to benefit his family. Now that he’s free again, he wants to leave all trace of his first marriage behind and create a new life for his son and himself. But his lonely son, Edmund, is drawn to the large and loving Ellsworth family, and Colin himself is inevitably drawn in as well, especially by the placid widow.

The romance burbles along to the expected ending, but the burbling is delightfully convoluted, with many a twist along the way. Dudley’s plots are anything but predictable, and the way Colin resolves the final dilemma to win his lady is breathtaking in its audacity. There are side plots a-plenty, too, with Miranda’s other suitors providing most of the comic relief, although the highlight for me was the ball at Colin’s house and his masterful manipulation of the musicians to ensure that he spent the maximum time with the lady of his choice and as little as possible with anyone else. It’s very ingenious and (for me, anyway) completely original, and had me in stitches.

The writing is, as always, brilliant, with every word perfectly chosen – erudite, but not so erudite that the reader is constantly reaching for the dictionary. Bonus points for using delightful words like ‘thitherward’ and ‘hermitical’. There were a very few American grammatical constructions, and Edmund mysteriously became Edmond a few times, but nothing that affected my enjoyment in the slightest. Now that so many of the children are married, with children of their own, I would have appreciated a comprehensive family tree.

This book is a paean to large, boisterous, happy families. The Ellsworths may be an assorted family, but the children have grown up happily, to make happy marriages of their own. It doesn’t surprise me in the least the Edmund was drawn to them, and emerged from his shell while basking in their all-encompassing acceptance. And a pleasant surprise that Colin, too, recognised the importance of family to his future wife and made her happiness more important than his own. A wonderful read, and lovely to read about an older couple. Five stars, and highly recommended, and now to wait for Beatrice’s story.


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