REVIEW: Mistress of Willowvale by Patricia Veryan
While not strictly part of the Golden Chronicles, MoW sets the stage for it and features lots of characters who appear throughout it and the follow up series, the Jewelled Men. It’s one of Veryan’s rarer titles and as such sells for lots of money. This is my second reading and while it’s gone up a bit in my estimation since the first time, I still doubt it’s worth the monetary investment for all but dedicated Veryan fans.
Kit Thorndyke and his older twin, Kevin, were devoted to each other all their lives and when Kit discovers his twin dying on the battlefield of Prestonpans (right before the final showdown battle of Culloden), he is devastated. He also inherits the Earldom of Aynsworth, something he never wanted. When Kit sells out of the cavalry and returns to London, he discovers two things. Lots of people wonder if the vicious rumors that he allowed his twin to
die so he could inherit the Earldom are true and two, the woman he has loved his entire life has been publicly unfaithful to him during the six years he fought as a cavalry officer in Europe and as a result has a bastard son.
Kit is appalled by the first discovery and devastated by the second. But since he has publicly stated his intention to marry Leonie before discovering the truth, he has no choice but to honor his word and marry her. Leonie
refuses to name the man with whom she had an affair and pleads for Kit’s understanding. His pain demands an outlet and he salvages his wounded pride by lashing out at her. After the wedding, they move to his estate, Willowvale, and he begins to discover that he can’t forget the love they had for each other. Nor can he withstand the growing love he feels for Alexander, Leonie’s son. But when the military arrives hunting fugitive Jacobites, the whole family and their friends are pulled into a growing disaster that threatens not only their love but could end with the specter of a ghastly traitors death for them all.
MoW ends up mainly being Kit’s book. And because of him and the usual trademarks of Veryan’s books, great duels, close friends, near disaster endings, wonderful period touches, it gets a qualified B- from me. What drags it down? Leonie. Quite simply, she never becomes more than a cypher heroine and as most of the book is shown from Kit’s POV, I ended up not knowing much more about her than I did at the beginning. The secret behind her fall from grace is revealed (and she does have good reasons for what she did) but she comes off as very colorless and not too interesting.
What I came away with during this reading is a greater appreciation for Kit. I had seen him as cruel to Leonie (and he is, at times) but now I can see why and how deeply he suffered. The Veryan group has discussed this book and one member pointed out how Kit’s personality type matched her own (we think he is a Myers-Briggs ISTJ – The Duty Fulfiller). After having read this personality profile, I must say that she has a point and I can see some of the driving factors behind Kit’s actions and feelings. I also enjoy his interactions with five year old Alexander and how he begins to be a role model for the impressionable lad. They began to inculcate the Code of a Gentleman very early then.
Veryan’s writing style is very much like the old Hollywood swashbucklers of the 30s and 40s. Sort of larger than life at times and full of drama and, well, swashbuckling. The Code of Honor is paramount and is lived to the letter. Men worship their Ladies Fair and would rather die than break their word. Women might appear weak and frail (and that’s how lots of the men see them) but have deep inner strengths that come into play in surprisingly realistic “true to the times” ways (you’ll never see a Veryan heroine grab a sword and engage in a duel).
While MoW isn’t as good overall as most of Veryan’s other books, it does have its strengths and is worth reading for those and to see some of the other characters from her series. But don’t spend too much money for it and be aware of its weaknesses. B-