Marianne Daventry is an innocent 17-year-old whose mother died the year before in a riding accident. Her father’s scarpered off to France to grieve, her twin sister’s in London with family friends enjoying a season, while poor little Marianne is wasting away with boredom at her grandmother’s in Bath. Her gran, a cranky and unpleasant old biddy, decides to disinherit her no good scoundrel nephew and bestow her fortune of forty thousand pounds on Marianne, as long as the girl will learn to behave like a proper lady (she likes running about out of doors without a bonnet, and prefers the countryside to town life – dreadful stuff).
Marianne clearly needs role models, and is shipped off to Edenbrooke, the estate where Lady Wyndham, a bosom friend of Marianne’s mother lives. Marianne’s twin sister is besties with Lady Wyndham’s daughter, and the girls are set to return to the estate from London, so Marianne will have some company. On the way to Edenbrooke, Marianne’s carriage is set upon by a highwayman, and when her coachman is shot, she has to drive the carriage to the nearest inn by herself (this was one of the few useful and admirable things the girl did in the entire novel). At said inn, she’s insulted by a gentleman, because of her dishevelled appearance. Once he realises that she is of good standing, he apologises for his incredible rudeness and instead proceeds to condescendingly take matters completely out of her hands. He insists that they be on first name basis, and refuses to divulge anything about his identity.
Once Marianne arrives at Edenbrooke and promptly falls in the river, twice (because she loves to twirl uncontrollably to express happiness, and apparently never looks where she does this), she discovers that Philip is indeed Lady Wyndham’s second oldest son. They two strike up a highly unlikely and inappropriate friendship, and just before Marianne’s twin Cecily is about to arrive complications rear their ugly head when it’s revealed that Philip’s older brother died a few years back, making him the lord of the manor, and the man Cecily has set her sights on as a future husband. As Marianne apparently always gives in if her slightly older sister calls dibs on something, this means she has to give up on Philip. Oh noes! How can this conflict ever be resolved!?!
As this book is currently one of the finalists in the Goodreads Choice 2012 awards, and has a huge number of positive reviews both there and here on Amazon, I decided to give it a try. Many of the reviews compare the writing to that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and all I can say is that both women must be spinning in their graves. Or possibly “twirling” like the heroine in this preposterous story.
It’s labelled as a “proper romance”, because there aren’t any graphic love scenes, but the behaviour of the hero and heroine is deeply improper from the moment they first meet. As the heroine is an inexperienced young girl from the country, her ignorance and foolishness might be explained away, but the so-called “gentleman” hero should know better than to encourage the girl to call him by her first name, flirt inappropriately with her in private and in front of his family. At one point, Philip encourages Marianne to take a nap outside, while he sits around watching her (Edward Cullen alert!), and subsequently claims that “she snores like a big, fat man”. If that’s the makings of a “proper” romance, give me the kind with sexy times every day of the week.
The first half is full of badly done exposition, the author overuses adjectives, and in pretty much every scene, all the characters seem to feel an excess of emotions from joy to anger to despair, if the descriptions of their feelings and facial expressions is to be believed. The book is wildly melodramatic, and might have been better if it was written in 3rd person – but sadly, it’s not.’
Then there’s the plot, highwaymen, falling into rivers, inappropriate flirting and banter, dreadfully characterised supporting characters (both Marianne’s twin sister Cecily and Philip’s younger sister Louisa are total mean girl bitches for most of the story, only to make a total turnaround and become super supportive and helpful “fairy godmothers” in the wrap up of the story), kidnappings, random due (inside in the common room at an inn – how do you even go about that?) – it may sound exciting, but most of the time, it’s just dull, and there’s a limit to how far I can suspend my disbelief.
I fully understand that readers may be looking for clean, chaste Regency romances – but do yourselves a favour and read something by Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer novel instead. This is simply a very poor excuse for a novel, pretty cover notwithstanding.