This was a soap opera of a book. So many terrible things happen to Kathryn that it’s almost funny after a while. I was eagerly turning pages, thinking “What next? Will she be struck by a meteor? Lose a limb to a pack of wild dogs? Have to wear last season’s fashions?”
In the late 1700s, Kathryn has a wimpy hypochondriac mother and a horrible lech of a stepfather, so by age 16 she’s running the household at her home, Windover Hall. After she falls in love with the family tutor, things start to go bad for her.
1. Horrible stepfather has a fit that she’s canoodling with someone beneath her station, beats the tutor up and throws him off a cliff (this happens by page seven).
2. Horrible stepfather runs their family deep into debt; family lawyer advises Kathryn to marry well to save the family. Kathryn refuses, wanting to marry for love, until:
3. Horrible stepfather corners and kisses her, telling her it’s not his fault that she’s grown into such a lovely young woman, and sooner or later he will have her. (ew ew ew)
4. Kathryn marries a rich young banker whose mother hates her.
5. Horrible mother-in-law does not let her run her new household; husband Thomas talks to his mother more than her.
6. Kathryn can’t imagine life going on like this and wades out into a river to end it all. A scared Thomas stops her, but only has a change of heart for a day or two.
7. Time goes on and she fails to get pregnant, disappointing the mother-in-law and causing Thomas to beat her, ‘cause that obviously helps fertility.
8. Things get worse and worse, Thomas’s bank is about to go under, and he shoots himself right before Kathryn finds out she’s pregnant.
9. Kathryn and her maid flee to London to protect the heir.
Once in London, Kathryn must find a way to make a living (in a proper ladylike way), save the family bank (although why she continues to care about this rotten family I have no idea), and make a happy life for herself and her baby, though by that point I’m not sure that she understands the word ‘happy.’ More like ‘alive and unmolested.’ Through all the ridiculous calamities, though, Kathryn remains terribly likeable, and I actually liked the book. I just kept thinking “Really? Now what?” She deals stoically with all her troubles, and tries to find a balance between standing up for herself against the cruel male world, and still being ladylike. Her maid Beth is sweet and spunky, and there were some fun spinster aunts I would’ve liked to see more of, but mostly Kathryn is on her own.
Since this is regency and romancy, of course it has a happy ending, but the book is really about the journey. Kathryn has a horrible, no-good, very bad life, but stays true to herself (mostly) and ends up on top.