Georgian set historical books make my heart pitter patter. When I find a book description that mentions it’s set then, much of the work of making me want to read it is already done. Throw in some daring do and a little swashbuckling and I drool in anticipation. Mix in a little pathos of a lost cause and I’m set. But with all this going for it, I’ll be honest and say some books just make you want to keep read them regardless of any problems you might encounter along the reading way. This is one of them.
“So much has happened to us both in these few short months! We are very far indeed, from those days of idyllic innocence in Oxfordshire.”
Tell me about it. The two cousins, Fraser and Catherine, both young, well born Englishwomen – though Fraser’s mother was from the wilds of Highland Scotland – will go from sweet, carefree innocence to the horrible task of combing through a battlefield in search of dead relatives in less than a year. Catherine will be forced from the pampered existence as a rich Duke’s granddaughter to one among rebels on the run as they foment support for the Bonnie Prince – who is quite charming to her when they meet.
After her father’s death, Fraser becomes the mainstay of the household of an English officer assigned to duty among her mother’s people. While Catherine finds the Prince’s supporters to be dashing and romantic, Fraser has no intention of getting swept up in this nonsense despite the fact that she has relatives embroiled in the thick of it.
We see from the very start of the story the differences between the two cousins. Short, slightly dumpy Fraser and beautiful, elegant and flirty Catherine. They’re so different and yet throughout the book, it’s obvious how much they care for each other.
I adore Fraser. As a practical, no nonsense woman myself, she is a delight to read about. She accepts what is, tries to do her best, has a wicked sense of humor and speaks her mind to anyone, anywhere (loved the scene of her introduction to the Duc de Lyons). Though half Scottish, her initial comments on that country are hysterical.
“We contrived to parade yet another member of the mutton family across our plates, though Portia turned her nose up at it (as I wished to do myself). We have found ourselves shin-deep in sheep here, and floundering in bottomless pools of oatmeal.”
She knows she’s not conventionally pretty but doesn’t weep about it. She’s good hearted and true. In the end, she loses so much and so many yet ultimately, she gains something beyond price.
Catherine starts out as very spoilt, and, in her own words, very shallow. She’s definitely the romantic one of the two. And yet, I liked her in spite of her flaws. Her response to the wailings of Laticia when they’re accosted by highwaymen is divine. And she does suffer much loss, much grief in addition to having had a hard life despite all her advantages in life. Her father is a horror, her eldest brother a monster – have to agree with her own feelings on that – her middle brother is no piece of cake and she’s separated from the one brother she truly loves for much of the story.
Plus she ends up
In the character of Catherine’s oft needed savior, you’ve created a darling. At first he’s such a romance hero, though as Fraser wryly points out, “What truly sensible Englishman could ever bring himself to behave quite like a figure from some romantic tale. It wants dignity.” But then of course, he’s not what he initially seems. Is he in England drumming up support? If so, how on earth does he have time to keep such close tabs on Catherine? However, I must admit to laughing out loud at his nickname for Timothy.
Usually the inclusion of Highland brogue drives me to near distraction but in this case, since I adored the characters you insisted on having speak this way, I soldiered on. Charming Ian – whose daring knows almost no bounds, irascible Auld Gearald – who’s not at all what Fraser is expecting, and dear Doctor Burns – whose politics, Fraser states tartly, “are to mend the fools who are out damaging one another for any number of idiotic reasons” are delightful as well as maddening.
Though you portray the heartbreak of the women searching the destruction of Culloden for their loved ones, and mention the atrocities that followed (“See, the Conquering Hero Comes,” indeed!), I must admit that these sections didn’t tug at me nor pull me in as much as I would have liked. Indeed, Fraser appears to skip rather lightly through the aftermath of a shattered country, a pregnant woman in tow with her.
Another thing that ended up bothering me more as the novel progressed is how the exchange of the cousins’ letters was continued. At first, it’s straightforward. Then believable as Ian often acts as a courier or Armand’s influence speeds letters on their way. But after Culloden, with the whole of Scotland and much of England in an uproar and several characters on the run…at this point I just had to stop thinking about the logistics and enjoy the story.
One major issue I have is with the cavalier attitude towards English aristocratic titles and inheritance. You have Catherine stating that her grandfather, a Duke, has several excess titles he can bestow at his pleasure. Her father is listed as being an Earl which is fine if this is a courtesy title he’s holding of his father’s but he definitely should not be a peer in his own right. And then, the creme de la creme, after the Battle of Culloden, her youngest brother is moved up in the line of succession to be the one who will eventually inherit all even though he still has an older brother who you have renouncing his inheritance. No, no, no, NO. In so many ways…NO. These things aren’t up for discussion, they aren’t arbitrary, they are not ours to change at will, they are well documented and there is no excuse for making mistakes of this magnitude.
As the story wrapped up, I applauded the wise council of Duc de Lyons for Fraser to change her last name even though she’s – pretty much – beyond the reach of the King’s army. I think you gave the book the only ending for each cousin it could have to ensure everyone’s HEA. I have already purchased the sequel about the cousins’ daughters and hope that it will live up to what preceded it. And since it appears to be set in the Colonies, maybe we’ll avoid any more “to do” about titles. B
This book can be purchased in ebook format from Fictionwise.