A difficult one for me to rate. I’m a huge fan of Susan Speers, who is one of the most original Regency authors around. I never quite know what she’ll come up with next, and I love that uncertainty. But it does mean that her books are quite hit or miss with me. This one was more miss than hit, but still an intriguing read.
Here’s the premise: Lady Jane Wilverhampton is living a retired life with her godmother in Scotland, trying to escape the misery of an almost-betrothal that went wrong and family scandal. But when she’s invited to a house party, she meets again the man who broke her heart a number of years ago, when he married someone else. It wasn’t from choice – the two were caught alone in the library together and forced to marry. Now she’s dead, and Angus Killoran is free again, but Jane has made a vow never to marry. Her father and younger brother were both tainted by a kind of madness, and she won’t pass on that bad blood to another generation. But Angus has a younger brother, Fergus, who is supposed to be wooing the daughter of their hosts, a beautiful heiress who will restore the Killoran fortunes. Unfortunately, Fergus has taken a shine to Jane…
The characters here have an awful lot of history. There’s the halcyon days of Jane and Angus’s courtship in France. The misery of his entrapment, forcing him to marry. There’s his wife’s death in a fire, partially destroying the family home. Then there is Jane’s father, and his cruelty to her mother and to the children. Jane’s younger brother has committed murder, although we never hear much about that, and he’s living abroad. And finally, Jane’s older brother, who also vowed never to marry, has broken that vow and is expecting his first child. All of this is revealed piecemeal in flashbacks, which gives the book a disjointed feel.
There are numerous side characters, none of whom are ever brought to the front of the stage so that we can get to know them properly. They simply flit about, moving into Jane’s view and then out again, easily forgotten. I would have liked to know more about the heiress, for instance, and also about young Catriona and her brother. What was the point of them in this story? I have no idea.
As for Angus and Fergus, I never really understood what they were thinking or feeling, or why they didn’t sit down together and talk openly about Jane. It seemed as though they simply drifted about in a helpless, purposeless way. And then there was Jane herself. What did she feel? Where was the emotion? Sometimes she cried and paced about impatiently, but I can’t say that any of the intense feelings she ought to be (and was!) experiencing came across to me. A lot of this was frustrating to me. I’m not a huge fan of angsty heroines, but with the sort of tragedies sweeping through Jane’s life, I wanted to feel her pain more intensely than I did.
If this sounds negative, it’s because there is an unusual and powerful story here that struggled to escape the unemotional tone of the writing. Perhaps other readers can fill in the gaps between what was written and what was beneath the surface, but I found it too difficult. There were moments when the emotion reached me, but mostly it was submerged. The writing was also marred by proofreading errors, with a lot of wayward punctuation, and a few anachronisms (no teddy bears in the Regency, for example). Speers has written some amazing books, but this one was an interesting read that just didn’t quite work for me. I still recommend it, and the whole series, for anyone who’s tired of the usual Regency tropes. Three stars.