Dear Mrs. Styles,
When I reviewed one of your Roman era historicals, I made some comment about how I wondered that you weren’t writing about Roman Britain since you’re so near to “The Wall.” Perhaps one day you’ll still place one of your books there but for now, this Victorian is a nice departure from what fans might have come to expect from you. Plus it’s set in Newcastle Upon Tyne as well!
Miss Emma Harrison begins the novel by flirting closely with a type of heroine who can get on my nerves at times. The “must help Daddy fulfill his dream” heroine can become obsessive in her efforts to make sure that her father’s ultimate goal/dream is finally realized in the face of all protests from the hero. Emma has some depths though and you show us the stifling life of a Victorian well-to-do young woman from which she escaped. I like that civil engineering hasn’t always been her secret goal in life and that, in fact, she comes to it rather late in life and only then discovers that she likes it and that she’s good at it. I also like that the men with whom she works feel more comfortable with a man in charge of the project as it seems to me that this would be the prevailing attitude of the day.
I like that Jack Stanton, while having his initial moments of pride and resentment towards the woman he feels ignored his offer of marriage seven years before, quickly moves past those understandable feelings and concentrates on the reason he’s come to inspect the bridge project his company is financing. He’s a businessman and he demonstrates what you tell us about him with his meticulous care in checking the site, the plans, the calculations and anything else that could impact the reputation he’s worked so hard to acquire over the past seven years. When he catches on to what’s really happening, he doesn’t try to take petty revenge but is concerned with the failing health of the man who mentored him and who gave Jack his first chance.
We learn a little about bridge building but not enough to take over the story. You show us that Emma and Jack both know what they’re doing but no huge hunks of facts get dropped on our heads as we’re watching the reconciliation between these two. One thing that really stood out for me was how you depict the cold! Standing out in the sleet, getting covered with snow, bundling up for going sleighing– brrrr, I could feel it. And since this book is set in November/December in Northern England, it nicely sets the mood.
One thing that did bother me about the story were the misunderstandings that come from Jack. Emma is pretty straightforward about their relationship once she knows that she came to a wrong conclusion – she goes to Jack and apologizes for her misunderstanding of his actions but he seems to deliberately let her think the wrong thing and jump to those conclusions. I dunno, maybe I missed the parts where he doesn’t realize that he’s misleading her.
I thought the villain was a little over the top at the end but nicely under the radar until then. I did have trouble believing that
“A Christmas Wedding Wager” shows what you can do with a slightly more modern historical period and I think will help keep you from being pigeonholed as only writing Roman era stories. I love that you’re writing about your own backyard now. Are the Christmas revelries you describe/mention still routinely done in northeast England? And what is a Saint Monday? Thanks for getting me in the mood to tackle hauling down the Christmas decorations from my attic. B