REVIEW: Song Cycle by Mary Burchell
After years of hard training Anna was ready to launch into a career in the world of music. Everything seemed to be going welt until family troubles forced her to turn down the chance of a lifetime to join a Canadian tour, organized by the dynamic Jonathan Keyne.
But now it seemed that Fate was giving her a second chance.
Book Eight in the Warrender Sagastarts with a dad who has guided heroine Anna along as a singer as he’s cherished his dreams of writing and having a grand opera staged. But it’s practical mum who has done the heavy lifting in getting the money for Anna’s training and making sure the house doesn’t fall down around their ears. True-to-life warnings – Italian soprano Mirena Freni nurtured her voice this way – from Dad remind Anna not to go for the easy money and fleeting fame of roles too heavy for her. Anna has her mother’s practical nature and knows full well that a lightning strike of luck is needed to go along with her brilliant voice and hard work. Her friend Judy has faced reality and knows that if she works hard to learn secretarial skills, she’ll have her pick of jobs and be able to just enjoy music rather than kill herself over it. Here Burchell sticks up for her own profession and its importance.
Judy bestows the opinion that Anna has that special something, that magical fusing of “words and music and instinct and training” that can transport a listener and make them believe. It’s indefinable but she thinks our Anna’s got it. Judy’s also got the word on the street from her job on a possible operatic tour that Anna might audition for. It’s a challenge as Anna had sung for Jonathan Keyne before and left the man less than bowled over but it’s a challenge Anna relishes as he’s the vital, authoritative kind of person one wants to sing well for. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got Oscar Warrender’s good opinion of his musical directing skills.
As Anna shares with Gail Rostall being taught and coached by Austrian Elsa Marburger, it’s no wonder that Anna is kept firmly in the roles suited to her voice and training level – much to Jonathan’s satisfaction. Johnathan’s accompanist also heaves a sigh of relief and delight when Anna transports them with an appropriate interpretation of Musetta’s Waltz. Ha! a new angle on the music world. Madame Marburger agrees with Warrender that the performance must come before anything else and a musician has to be ready to put personal issues aside. It’s too bad that Anna is having to learn this before she’s even had her big chance.
But wait – after having to reject her spectacular chance to sing in Keyne’s Canadian tour due to a family emergency, Anna might get a second-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That is if she can get around a spoilt heiress’s determination to snag Jonathan Keyne for herself. Teresa is that dominating British woman who can sweep most everything before her but is she selfish or just overly indulged by her doting and rich papa? Meanwhile what is behind Jonathan’s seemingly careless attitude after he unexpectedly lays a passionate kiss on Anna? Is he truly romantically detached or devastated by the repeated interruptions he faces with Anna?
In several other Warrender Saga books, the heroines sometimes seem to be helplessly carried along on the stream of the plot. Here Anna takes the reins after fuming over the slights inflicted by Teresa. Yet Anna isn’t one of those people who can brazen out the gambles of life.
So here I am with about a third of the book left and it appears that our hero and heroine are on the same page and sympatico. Obviously, something else has to happen to bring on the conflict of Act 3. And just on schedule, voila. I must say that Anna’s nose being out of joint over what causes Jonathan to exit stage right is a bit rich given what happened earlier. Then her misunderstanding – okay, it’s more believable than most misunderstandings – sends the plot conflict into its final stages. A few more branches are added to the fire which blazes merrily as Anna’s hopes go up in smoke. Does Jonathan care for her or merely her voice?
Once again I’m impressed with a Burchell heroine’s mother. Mothers sometimes come off badly in Romance books as a foil or source of someone’s wounded feelings or reason to act out but not with a lot of these stories. Instead, here Mrs. Fulroyd is a good sounding board for Anna to discuss things with.
Burchell makes a teensy bit of commentary on contemporary life when she has Anna’s non-musical flatmates be a little impressed over Oscar Warrender being interested in Anna’s professional career “but their reaction would have been much the same had he been a footballer of note or a disc jockey.”
In this book, Anna and Jonathan are given turns to cut and hurt each other. Like wounded animals they do tend to lash out when in pain. But frankly, given the number of times (mainly) Anna and Jonathan are instantly prepared to believe the worst of each other, I wonder about their long term future. Anna is suitably humble and in a final scene grovels nicely to Jonathan who deserves it, poor dear. There’s some alarming talk of shaking and beating then clasped arms and hard kisses galore – enough that a London bobbie or two ought to have knocked on the car window. It’s a bit more of a public fuss than usual in a Burchell denouement.
Honestly Anna almost lost me in the number of times she was willing to make snap judgments on Jonathan. The last grovel she makes even had him saying “I’ve heard this before so why is this time different.” Basically he got “just because it is” as his answer. Snort. Oscar and Anthea need to get cards printed – “Warrender Matchmaking Service.” Their little POV scene at the end helps save the ending. B-