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REVIEW:  The Vagabond Duchess by Claire Thornton

REVIEW: The Vagabond Duchess by Claire Thornton

Dear Ms Thornton,

vagabond-duchess.gif“The Vagabond Duchess” winds up your trilogy about a set of cousins who all find love around the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666. As such, it’s set in one of my favorite time eras, the lusty and bawdy court of King Charles II. Men dressed like fops but carried deadly swords. Women flirted outrageously yet still lived under many societal restrictions. The Guilds of London still ruled their members and the country was still uneasily putting itself back together after the upheavals of the Civil War. I have to ask though, what’s with this cover? The women look like Restoration beauties but are the men supposed to be playing dress up in Tudor clothes?

He’d promised to return.
But Jack Bow is dead. And Temperance Challinor’s quietly respectable life is changed forever.

Practical Temperance has no time to grieve for the irresistible rogue who gave her one night of comfort in a blazing city. She must protect her unborn child–"by pretending to be Jack’s widow.

A foolproof plan. Until she arrives at Jack’s home– and the counterfeit widow of a vagabond becomes the real wife of a very much alive duke!

Temperance, a member of the Guild of Drapers, has little time or patience for the handsome traveling musician who helped her out two drunk lords called her to a tavern to make a sale. But she is happy to see him the next day when he stops by her shop to flirt a little. She’s even happier to see him the day after the fire has begun spreading across the City and it’s every man for himself. John Beaufleur, aka the 2nd Duke of Kilverdale, aka Jack Bow strolling musician, finds himself back in Cheapside looking for Temperance as the fire rages in their direction. With the City going mad around them, he ensures several people make it to safety before he and Temperance find sanctuary in a crowded inn for the night. There they take comfort in each other’s arms.

The next morning, Jack gives her his ring, a purse of money and assures her he’ll return. Fate intervenes sending Jack on a two month detour (see The Abducted Heiress) and in the meanwhile a miscommunication makes Temperance think he’s dead. By that time she knows she’s a gal in trouble. The strict rules of the Draper’s Guild and conventions of the times won’t allow a single woman to be pregnant and Temperance has no choice but to seek the Sussex town Jack mentioned as home. There she hopes to claim widowhood status and find a small cottage in which to raise their child. Imagine her surprise when her inquiries about him lead her to Kilverdale Hall and to the knowledge that she’s a wife and a Duchess.

I enjoyed reading about yet another unconventional heroine. Temperance is a business woman in her own right, owning her own shop and doing well for herself. She’s practical and clearheaded and when faced with upheaval, she makes decisions with her head. She’s not going to turn down Jack’s proposal just because he doesn’t say three little words. She’s also not going to make scenes as she tries to settle into her new life, knowing that she and Jack must persuade everyone that their marriage is of longer standing than it really is.

I like that you show us about Jack instead of merely telling us that he’s a devoted father, a careful landlord, well known at court, wealthy and handsome. But he’s not perfect, as readers of the previous book in this trilogy know, and he’s mature enough to admit to his mistakes and try to make amends. His upbringing, in exile as a peer but with no income and few prospects, has affected him deeply and those marks show in his actions.

The first third of the book zips along showing us the business side of the City of London, the horrible fire and its immediate after effects. The second third targets Jack and Temperance working out their story and coming to an agreement about their marriage but the last third unfortunately drops this grade down. I know these two don’t really know each other well, I know that they are from different social classes but 100 pages of misunderstandings is just too much to take. It’s true that each misunderstanding doesn’t last too long but they just keep coming and coming. In the end it wore me down and caused the last 100 pages to drag endlessly. I think readers also might need to know about how much looser the marriage laws of the time were compare to post 1753 ones.

I think you did an excellent job bringing new readers up to speed with what went on in the previous two books without doing an info dump and characters from those two books are used to advance the plot of this book instead of just showing up to crowd the scenes. I’m glad I read this book and just wish the grade had been a little bit higher. C+


REVIEW:  The Abducted Heiress by Claire Thornton

REVIEW: The Abducted Heiress by Claire Thornton

Dear Ms. Thornton,

12307510.gifAfter attempting the first book in this trilogy, “The Defiant Mistress,” I was pretty sure I wouldn’t go any further with the series. Then I read a good review for this book. That coupled with Laura’s positive post about it made me decide to give this one a chance. After all, I could always take it back to Waldenbooks. I love Waldenbooks’ return policy. I’m glad to say though that I won’t be using it for this book.

Lady Desire Godwin has lived a reclusive life since her father died five years ago. Before that, she helped to nurse her mother during her mother’s terminal illness. So it comes to pass that she’s now thirty years old and still unwed, despite the fact that she’s a wealthy heiress. But Desire wants a husband and children and knows that she needs a man to protect her. Just last year, a nobleman attempted to abduct an heiress and the marriage laws are such that if he had succeeded, nothing her family could have done would have annulled the forced marriage. When a stranger climbs up onto the roof of her London home and then is followed by two ruffians, Desire is momentarily frozen in horror, fearing her time has come. But the handsome stranger surprises her by attempting to stop the others and her sense of justice makes Desire insist that her hastily assembled household see that he is incarcerated in Newgate prison rather than being strung up by his neck on the spot.

Colonel Jakob Balston is pissed to be in prison but figures that a quick note to his cousin the Duke of Kilverdale will spring him. But Kilverdale must be off on one of his jaunts because three days later, Jakob is still waiting. Reluctantly he tries to notify his paternal grandfather, the Earl of Swiftbourne but gets no response from him either. Now Jakob is getting nervous as the fire which started a few days ago in a London bakery seems to be spreading across the city. When the gaolers finally decide to move the prisoners to the Clink prison, Jakob seizes his chance to escape during the confusion. Admiration for Desire’s coolheaded response to the abduction he was attempting to thwart, coupled with a sense of the debt he owes her for saving his life, compels Jakob check to be sure that she and her household have evacuated the burning city. When he arrives on her rooftop garden to find that while her household has left Desire is still there, Jakob is forced to remove her. But what he calls a rescue, Desire names an abduction. And Jakob finds himself growing more attracted to Desire even as he battles to discover who is behind the attempts force her into marriage. Meanwhile Desire struggles to believe that a man could want her for herself instead of merely for her immense fortune.

I like the slow way that Desire grows in confidence as the story progresses. No one event suddenly propels her into being a take-charge spitfire. Instead, she takes small but believable steps towards independence. She also comes across as a woman of her time and I found it natural that she would trust the men she had grown up believing were working in her best interest. She also has no false belief that she can make it on her own nor does she want to avoid marriage altogether. For a woman of her status in society, this would have been unthinkable.

Jakob is an alpha man of the seventeenth century but this doesn’t mean he comes across as a thug. Men of that era, especially first born sons, were raised to be in charge and to look after the women in their care. Jakob also mixes the flirtatious standard of the men of the Restoration Era with the basic decency of a good guy. He can also be a man of action, ready with his sword and his soldier’s instincts to defend innocents and his lady.

I thought you did a great job recreating the feel of 1666 England from the class divisions to the clothes to the horrible fire which raged through London. The wedding night customs, which I had read in other books as well, make me glad that modern weddings no longer include a public bedding of the bridal couple. And lest anyone wonder about historical accuracy of abducting heiresses in 17th century England, Antonia Frasier mentions it as well in her book “The Weaker Vessel.”

I was disappointed with the number of misunderstandings between Desire and Jakob. Most of them do actually makes sense in the context of the story but still there were a few too many of them for my taste. Still, I enjoyed the book and am glad that I gave it a try and that authors are being allowed to use more unusual settings for their stories. B- for “The Abducted Heiress.”