The year is 1715, and England is a divided county, with a lot of complicated political and religious unrest. Lady Eleonora is a young widow, who’s put in a very difficult position when an agent of the Crown comes to search her brother’s estate, where he has weapons and barrels of gunpowder buried in the basement, to be used in a Jacobite rebellion against King George I. If the weapons are found, Nora and her brother will be tried for treason. Making the situation even harder is the fact that the King’s agent is Adrian Ferrers, the Earl of Rivenham, and Nora’s first love.
Adrian used to be a Catholic, and Nora’s family refused to let them marry, forcing Nora into an unhappy marriage with an older, violent man. Now that she’s a widow, she wants nothing more than to manage her brother’s estate for him (a place she loves, but has no rights to, being a mere woman in a time when women were considered chattel). Adrian, however, doesn’t know that Nora was forced, and believes she faithlessly abandoned him. Having converted to Protestantism and worked his way up in Queen Anne’s court, he’s now helping King George track down and stop Jacobite rebels. He knows Nora’s brother is guilty, he now needs to know if she’s willingly abetting him, or unaware of his doings and whereabouts.
During Adrian’s siege of the estate, he learns just how miserable Nora’s marriage was, how much she lost when her family discovered her youthful tryst with Adrian, and that she thought he’d abandoned her. Can the lovers be reunited, even though they are on opposite sides of the political and religious divide?
This book was a huge disappointment to me, made even more so by the fact that I rate Meredith Duran’s previous novels so very highly, with several of them being among my all time favourites. Add to that the fact that this book’s been very favourably reviewed by a lot of reviewers whose opinions I trust on the internet, so my expectations were high. As it was, only stubbornness, and the desperate hope that it would get better at some point if I only kept reading, allowed me to finish the book and not quit it in anger and disgust.
While Nora should probably be pitied, being a woman in a time when they were completely at the mercy of the men in their lives, and treated like property, I just wanted to reach into the book and slap her, hard and repeatedly, for her incredible stupidity. Even though she owes her brother nothing (he helped sell her into marriage to an abusive man) and knows he’s committing treason, she helps him endanger her life and those of all the people on the estate she loves, by letting him bury huge amounts of very volatile and dangerous explosives under the manor house. She keeps protecting him, even after it’s clear that he intended to marry her off to a cousin, again without even asking how she felt about the match.
Adrian is no prince, either. He tortures Nora by depriving her of sleep for several days, acts in an incredibly arrogant and high-handed way towards her, and even marries her by force (she’s bound and gagged at the time) because he’s decided that it’s what’s best for her. Even with all this, he’s still the more sympathetic of the two, and that should tell you how insufferably idiotic Nora was.
The only reason I’m giving the book 2 stars is because even though I hated the main characters, and had to force myself to finish the book, Duran still has a magnificent grasp of language and should also be commended for writing a novel set in a different time period than most historical romances. The book is very well researched and written, I just really disliked the plot and central premise. I really hope that this was a one-time occurrence, and that Duran’s next book is more to my liking. I would hate for this to be the last of her books I ever read.