Janine: When Julie Anne Long’s much-awaited The Legend of Lyon Redmond came out recently, Robin, Jennie and I decided to hold a SPOILERIFIC roundtable discussion of the book. Below is the back cover description:
Bound by centuries of bad blood, England’s two most powerful families maintain a veneer of civility…until the heir to the staggering Redmond fortune disappears, reviving rumors of an ancient curse: a Redmond and an Eversea are destined to fall disastrously in love once per generation.
An enduring legend
Rumor has it she broke Lyon Redmond’s heart. But while many a man has since wooed the dazzling Olivia Eversea, none has ever won her—which is why jaws drop when she suddenly accepts a viscount’s proposal. Now London waits with bated breath for the wedding of a decade…and wagers on the return of an heir.
An eternal love
It was instant and irresistible, forbidden…and unforgettable. And Lyon—now a driven, dangerous, infinitely devastating man—decides it’s time for a reckoning. As the day of her wedding races toward them, Lyon and Olivia will decide whether their love is a curse destined to tear their families part…or the stuff of which legends are made.
On the series as a whole:
Janine: This is the eleventh book in Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. I feel this book should have come sixth, following I Kissed an Earl, in which Lyon made a rare appearance, and What I Did for a Duke, in which we saw up close how Lyon’s absence hurt Olivia. Instead we got books about people who weren’t Everseas or Redmonds, when the series began as one about two feuding families, and this one was postponed.
Jennie: I very much agree that this book should have come earlier in the series. The Legend of Lyon Redmond was set up to be a victim of high expectations no matter how good (or not so good) it was.
Robin: I agree with the expectations problem. Although had the extension (and automatic reordering) of the series resulted in a finale that made it all worthwhile, I would probably have gone back and re-read some of the books I skipped after the extension announcement.
On the first half of the present-day storyline:
Janine: The book has a dual-timeline structure, with flashbacks to Lyon and Olivia’s original courtship, as well as a present day storyline about Olivia’s upcoming wedding to Landsdowne, a viscount, which is thwarted by her reunion with Lyon.
But Olivia and Lyon’s reunion in the present day doesn’t take place until the novel’s second half. In the first scene we see Lyon learn of Olivia’s wedding and decide to stay in England. After that, all the present day sections in the novel’s first half are in Olivia’s POV.
Olivia gives pennies to some beggars, one of which has his face bandaged; she hears a new song about her and Lyon, and views caricature drawings of him. She is fitted for a wedding dress, and confides in her modiste’s new assistant, Lilette, about her feelings for Lyon. But Olivia and Lyon confronting each other about their breakup, that we don’t get until the 55% mark.
I was frustrated with that for multiple reasons. First, because we’d already waited so long for this confrontation before this book even began. Second, because it was obvious that Lyon was impersonating the bandaged beggar, as well as that Lilette was in his employ, and it bothered me that he was duping Olivia. Third, because I was afraid this wouldn’t leave enough pages for Lyon and Olivia’s present day relationship to be adequately developed.
This structure also meant that Lyon and Olivia’s relationship was presented linearly. All the backstory was in the first half, and the reunion in the second. Seeing a relationship presented nonlinearly is one of the pleasures of a dual timeline narrative, so this choice seems odd.
Jennie: I was also very annoyed by Lyon-as-disguised-beggar. I find it annoying when authors practically draw flashing lights around plot points that (I think?) we’re supposed to be surprised about later on. I mean, what is the point of that? I would have rather had the scenes from Lyon’s POV rather than endure the pretense that 90% of readers aren’t going to realize the beggar is Lyon. (I felt the same way about Lilette/Digby, whom I loathed, BTW – her breezy attitude towards her betrayal of Olivia and complicity in kidnapping her infuriated me.)
Robin: I loved the songs and the portraits of Lyon (and I love that he bought one for himself), because they provided a self-consciousness about the absurdity of Lyon’s “legend” that I thought was necessary to pull off the romance. But I felt like that was dropped somewhere along the way, and not really carried through.
My biggest objection to the beggar was the way Olivia depended on his “blessing.” It felt fetishizing and exploitive and even when we discover his identity, it did not erase Olivia’s belief that she needed the approval of an impoverished person to feel okay about herself. It made her social consciousness feel callow and self-centered. For example, when she sees the beggar going into the church with Adam, right before her wedding to Landsdowne, her excitement is inherently selfish:
And she was glad she could send him to Adam, who seemed to have endless reserves of time and goodness to give to those who needed it. And if she’d been the means by which that man found help and comfort, well then, that was the only wedding present she needed.
It seemed like a sign.
Though she would have preferred to have one of the beggar’s blessings, just to be certain of it.
(Kindle Locations 4961-4965).
Her compassion for his poverty almost seems dependent on her needs, which is backwards to the way I think we’re supposed to see her. I couldn’t even dislike Olivia; I just felt that the story kept taking shortcuts with her character (and Lyon’s, for that matter) to push the melodrama of both the initial and reunited romance.
On the way the poor are presented:
Janine: Not only do we have the beggars in the present day storyline, but also, within the flashbacks, the Duffys, an impoverished Catholic family with a lot of children, tenants of the Redmonds whom Olivia visits and tries to aid.
Robin: I was increasingly frustrated at the way the poor become a plot device in the novel to facilitate Olivia’s goodness and both the initial coming together of the lovers and their reuniting. Her charitable visits are literally the means by which she gets to visit Lyon, so from the beginning, the two activities are entwined, and most of the passion seems to be directed at Lyon.
I also felt that the Duffys especially, became nothing more than a plot function to give Olivia her activist credentials and to facilitate the exchange of the watch. And even that is problematic, because Lyon’s gesture is still about Olivia’s happiness, more than it is about alleviating actual poverty. He tells her it’s for the Duffys, of course, but then says, “You must allow me to give you something.” (Kindle Locations 2512-2513). Which, now that I think of it, makes his anger and resentment toward her when she wouldn’t leave with him, odd, since he later claims that he did all of his good deeds because she could not.
That Olivia and Lyon meet while Olivia is on her way to and from the Duffys makes it difficult for them to be much more than a facilitator for Olivia and Lyon, and when Olivia is thwarted from visiting with them, her real anguish is that it will make her visits with Lyon more difficult. Later, I think it’s easier to read back to that section as reflective of Olivia’s own childish and self-pitying indulgence, but I’m not sure how self-aware Olivia ever is of that, especially given her interactions with the beggar. So again, I think it really deprived Olivia of development of those sentiments in an independent and authentic way.
Janine: Yes to all of that. The beggars were extra-annoying to me because I knew they were really Lyon and his crew. It turned me off to have Lyon, who is privileged and wealthy, playing at being a beggar. With the Duffys, I couldn’t help but think of how much better Cecilia Grant handled a similar visit to tenants who needed help in A Lady Awakened.
Jennie: I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that noticed that plot point: the kindly rich Protestants help out the poor Irish Catholics who can’t stop making babies and drinking. Ugh. (Even their dog is called promiscuous late in the book!)
On the development of the romance in the flashback sections:
Janine: The development of the romance in the flashback sections was my favorite aspect of the book. We see Lyon and Olivia as young people meeting and falling in love despite the enmity between their families. The Redmond / Eversea conflict and the knowledge that it will come between them lends poignancy to their interactions, and I especially liked the care Lyon showed for Olivia by not fully consummating their relationship. There was something sweet about the dry humping, because we knew he didn’t want to cause her social ruin or get her pregnant.
Robin: To your point about sex substituting for relationship development [in the second half], that’s true for the beginning of their relationship, too, where attraction drives everything. The yearning was off the charts. And I am a big fan of yearning. It made What I Did For A Duke incredibly successful for me. But in this book I started feeling wrung out even before Lyon departed, and so by the time they reunited, it was almost anti-climactic for me.
Janine: You know, that’s true, attraction drives everything, but we see them take an interest in each other’s reading materials, and there’s the conflict with the parents where they need to figure out how important they are to one another relative to their families. Their insecurities were felt more in the past, so there was more character development there than in the present, even if the relationship development was limited.
Jennie: I liked that they were identifiably young in their earlier romance – especially Olivia (Lyon still had a little bit of that “-est hero” syndrome I’m weary of – smartest, handsomest, most virile – thing going, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the older version of Lyon). I’m not a big believer in “thunderbolt”/love-at-first-sight, in real life or romance, but I thought Long sold it pretty well with Lyon and Olivia.
Robin: Yes to the fact that we see more of them as people early on, and that could have easily been build on later. Why, for example, does Lyon read Marcus Aurelius? Why does Olivia really want to be an abolitionist? Wasted opportunities galore.
Janine: I also liked Lyon’s confrontation with his father, Isaiah Redmond, who was determined to marry Lyon to someone else, which set the stage for Lyon’s departure from Pennyroyal Green. There follows a scene in the pouring rain, which I also liked very much, in which Lyon asked Olivia to run off with him to Gretna Green. Afraid to leave her family, Olivia questions his ability to support them and tells him no in very strong terms.
Jennie: I felt frustrated by that scene because I couldn’t believe that Lyon didn’t understand what he was asking of Olivia. In retrospect they both realize they made mistakes, and of course they were young – but he had such unreasonable expectations and his anger when she wouldn’t just give everything up to go with him was uncalled for.
I did like that there was an acknowledgment of how their differing home lives played into how they viewed running away together. Olivia – coming from an unusually close and loving family – was sacrificing a lot more than Lyon was, especially since he’d already been effectively banished by his father.
On Olivia and Lyon’s reunion:
Janine: Then we get to the second half, and Lyon stages the reunion by sending Olivia a fake invitation to meet with abolitionist Hannah More, Olivia’s idol and role model. So he dupes Olivia again.
What’s more, Olivia invites Lilette, the dressmaker’s assistant who is really a cohort of Lyon’s, to serve as her companion / chaperone on the journey to meet Hannah More. Why would Olivia do this? How could Lyon count on Olivia making this choice, rather than bringing another companion? It didn’t make much sense to me.
Finally, 55% into the novel, Lyon and Olivia meet. Lyon insists that they have a reckoning on board his ship, and the ship starts sailing as soon as they board. So Lyon more or less kidnaps Olivia. With her wedding to Landsdowne just two weeks away, this was a jerk move but I was still in the grip of the book so I went with it and enjoyed it.
They sail to his house in Cadiz, Spain, and this part of the book reads rushed. There’s an argument in which Lyon accuses Olivia of having been a coward when she wouldn’t run off with him to Gretna Green and Olivia realizes she was scared, but she explains that he pushed her too hard at the time.
Robin: I was frustrated with the fact that Lyon, in particular, doesn’t understand that Olivia can’t just pick up and leave with him on a moment’s notice. That she’s younger and so much more inexperienced and has no reason to believe she’d be safe with him, let alone whether she should risk her reputation to run away with him. I can see him not getting this at the moment, but FIVE YEARS?! Like it never occurred to him that he was being unreasonable by demanding she leave and then taking her own churlish comments to him as tantamount to a declaration of war?
Lyon otherwise understands the social consequences of his relationship with Olivia, because he’s always been the ‘responsible’ son. So his resentment toward her seems artificial to me, concocted to foster conflict.
Janine: You make great points about Lyon; he should have figured out Olivia had reasons to find it difficult to just take off to Gretna Green in all the years later. By the same token that Lyon should have figured out Olivia’s fear was reasonable, I thought Olivia should have realized that fear held her back a lot sooner, instead of acting like a martyr in all the intervening years.
Jennie: Olivia did spend a lot of the five years being a martyr to the memory of Lyon but to be fair to her, she was getting ready to get on with her life and marry a good man. Of course, it’s only then that Lyon can be bothered to have it out with her. (And why, again, did he have to kidnap her in order to do that?)
Robin: All this talk about abolition and social activism and intrigue around Olivia’s father and the slave trade, — hints throughout the series of this really big story — when the entirety of five years of drama and angst boils down to basically one Big Mis (and your points about Olivia’s martyrdom are excellent). I got to the part where they have sex for the first time, and I kept thinking that they’ve both suffered through five years of seemingly insurmountable problems between them and all it takes is a kidnapping and Lyon’s Spanish house to get things back on track?! And again, what of Olivia’s social ambitions? This could have been such a rich and interesting aspect of her character, but it always seems to just facilitate her relationship with Lyon (for example, the Hannah More ruse). Also, what year is this book set in, because More died in 1833.
Jennie: Yes, exactly. It’s not like I wanted more pointless bickering, but the quickness of the resolution highlighted the weakness of the conflict.
Janine: Their present day storyline was too compressed (and for what — Olivia’s dress fittings and “Lilette” spying on her for Lyon?). I kept feeling like they needed a conflict in the present day, something that would bring out the qualities they had developed as they got older — their greater toughness and certainty in what they wanted.
I wanted to see them prove that certainty to each other, get to know the people they had become in the intervening years and work out the differences that would arise from that. And by “get to know” I don’t mean go at it for most of their time alone together (I like sex when it’s well written, but it’s not a substitute for relationship development).
The sex in the hidden waterfall glade was clichéd, and it also bothered me that Lyon, who had cared so much about not getting Olivia pregnant when they were young, announced that he would not
dry hump spill in his trousers ever again, and proceeded to take no precautions whatsoever, despite the fact that Olivia was still engaged to Landsdowne. I guess it was okay by them to potentially stick Landsdowne with Lyon’s kid, even though Landsdowne needs an heir to his viscountcy?
Robin: I was frustrated that Landsdowne was being disregarded here. Did Olivia have one thought of Landsdowne during this time? I don’t remember her even thinking of him or having any cognizance of the disloyalty her actions were showing to him.
Our abolitionist hero also owns a plantation:
Janine: Also how about Lyon owning a Louisiana plantation? Really I don’t know what Long was thinking.
Robin: OMG a SUGARCANE PLANTATION!! Do you think it’s run by elves, who work away while Lyon’s out there thwarting slavery?
Janine: Maybe it’s run by Oompa-Loompas.
Robin: That’s it!!
Jennie: Hah! I had the same thought! Well, not about the Oompa-Loompas, but the mention of the plantation had me going “?” – I kept waiting for there to be some mention of how Lyon operated it without slave labor, but it never came up. Although I think that would’ve been a cop-out, since it’s hard to imagine being part of a community and an economy that runs on slave labor and not benefiting from it in some way.
Robin: Putting aside the whole ‘slavery was so much better in Lousiana’ argument (the problems with that are myriad), sugar cane became a powerful crop in Louisiana precisely because of the number of Haitian slaves brought to the territory. In fact, there was a large slave revolt over their brutal treatment on sugar cane plantations in Louisiana. So that was just an epic WTF moment for me.
Janine: It was for me too. I don’t get how, in a book in which both hero and heroine are abolitionists, he can own a plantation and she doesn’t even question it.
On the second separation, and on poor Landsdowne:
Janine: Lyon’s ship returns for Olivia and Lyon tells her that she has to go back to Pennyroyal Green and do what’s right for her. How could he do that if he really loved her, without at least telling her that he loved her? Who does that? When you love another person, you don’t let them go that easily. Plus it seemed patronizing to tell her to remember her code.
Back in Pennyroyal Green, instead of figuring out what she feels and needs, Olivia waits until she’s at the altar to dump Landsdowne. Again, who does that? Couldn’t she have told him an hour beforehand, at least?
Lyon the beggar is in the back of the church, complete with bandaged face. That came off as cheesy rather than dramatic. I didn’t pick up on it, but a friend pointed out that the book was an homage to The Odyssey, with trees, seafaring hero and prudent heroine. At the end of The Odyssey, Odysseus shows up dressed as a beggar, so it was taken from there, but it didn’t work.
I liked that Lyon didn’t let his father off the hook and have a warm reunion with him, but did we have to be told about every couple from every book in this series because it was the last book?
Jennie: Poor Landsdowne. Poor, poor Landsdowne. That was *so* wrong. I had been going along disliking Lyon a lot and Olivia only a little but waiting until THE ALTAR to ditch Landsdowne made me feel like the two really deserved each other.
I agree that it was good that Isaiah wasn’t magically forgiven. And also that there was way too much of “Lyon meets random in-law for the first time! And now another one! And another!” Not interesting.
Robin: The way Landsdowne is treated by Olivia, right up until the end of the book (and especially in the final scenes) is one of the worst aspects of her characterization for me. How are we supposed to respect her when she doesn’t have the courage to be honest with him? And I can’t even really blame Olivia, because her character, as did Lyon’s and Landsdowne’s, felt manipulated to serve the circumstances of the romance, which seemed to give way to shortcut after shortcut (The hero in disguise! A last minute revelation at the wedding that should never have happened! The unsuspecting cuckold, jilted at the altar, for maximum drama! A convenient bell tower for the couple to find refuge in!).
And yes, the allusions to Penelope’s character and to The Odyssey are certainly there. Except that Penelope spends the story thwarting all other suitors through various tricks, and she is merely a bit player to Odysseus’s heroic adventuring. So again, what’s the point of the allusion? What does it reveal or enrich in these two characterizations?
On the double standard:
Janine: Another aspect of the homage to The Odyssey that didn’t work was Lyon’s flings during the years of separation. It didn’t feel true to his character as a young man – he was so very obsessed with and committed to Olivia — and it bothered me that he got to stray while Olivia sat at home pining for him, too. This is not Homer’s time. It’s the twenty first century and women deserve a little more gender parity than that, damn it.
Jennie: I was particularly icked out by the no doubt “exotic” geisha who gave Lyon the origami figure. Yeah, I could have done without knowing that he wasn’t celibate. I would rather it not be addressed as all, or that he actually was chaste during the five years. Given the level of his devotion to Olivia, I don’t feel like it would’ve been unbelievable.
Robin: For me this goes back to Olivia’s characterization. If she’s intended to symbolize the faithful, chaste wife, then, well, to what end? Why? And why construct a character who is so socially progressive in one way, but so seemingly traditional and conservative otherwise? Not that it isn’t possible, but what’s the logic? What’s the rationale behind the double standard?
On the epilogue:
Janine: After the Lyon / Olivia story ends with a final paragraph about Isaiah (Why?) there’s an epilogue about some people in our own time that takes up 7% of the book. Why do we need to see these two descendants of Violet, Ardmay, and Jack in our own time, and what does it matter what all the Pennyroyal Green descendants do for a living? (And they’re all super achievers. By the end, I just wanted to hear that one of them flips burgers at Burger King.)
It’s also hinted in the epilogue that Jacob Eversea went on to kill Isaiah Redmond. What kind of HEA is that for Lyon and Olivia?
As I read the epilogue, I kept thinking that this 7% of the novel could have been put to better use developing Lyon and Olivia’s romance. Instead it felt like it was there to attract us to Long’s upcoming contemporary romance, Hot in Hellcat Canyon.
Jennie: It felt like a several-pages-too-long advertisement for Ancestry.com, as two people I don’t know or care about talk about their shared family tree.
Robin: I have to say, though, that I like Long’s contemporary voice better than her historical voice at this point. And it felt like there was better control over the language and the meanings of words and phrases. Although I was frustrated that it ended as a cliffhanger, since the upcoming contemporary features an entirely different couple.
On what was left out of the book:
Janine: The story about Jacob Eversea being involved in the slave trade, hinted at in I Kissed an Earl, was brushed off with a brief explanation that Isaiah made it look that way, and Lyon never tells Olivia that this was what kept him away from Pennyroyal Green.
Lyon and Olivia also don’t discuss how the miniature she gave him ended up in Adam Sylvaine’s hands. Readers of I Kissed an Earl may remember how Lyon’s sister, Violet, came to have this miniature, but since Adam Sylvaine’s possession of it hurt Olivia enough to cause her to get engaged to Landsdowne, I thought this should have been cleared up.
The possibility of the Redmond siblings learning that Colin Eversea is their half-brother, which we were tantalized with in The Perils of Pleasure, also didn’t materialize in this book.
I’m confused about the timeline of events around Colin’s conception, too. Olivia’s mother says to Olivia “When you were a little girl, your father went to sea for a time […] it was a difficult time. But true love weathers these things, and only grows stronger.” To which Olivia replies, “That was just before Colin was born, right? When Papa went to sea?” Isolde confirms this.
But as best as I can tell, Olivia is in her late teens or at most, twenty years old during the flashback storyline, which would make her twenty-five at most during the present day storyline, while Colin is presented as over twenty-six in The Perils of Pleasure, which takes place years earlier. That indicates Colin was conceived long before Olivia was a little girl.
Another confusing thing is that Isaiah is presented as caring more about money than love in this book and in earlier ones, so I thought he chose Fanchette for his wife over Isolde, Olivia’s mother, for that reason. But at the end of the book it’s stated that he carved Isolde’s name on a tree almost thirty years before Lyon and Olivia’s wedding “while he waited for a girl who never came.” So did Isaiah choose Fanchette over Isolde, or did Isolde choose Jacob over Isaiah?
Jennie: I noticed that! It seemed like an error because earlier in the book it’s pretty much stated that it was Isaiah’s greed that kept him from Isolde.
As for the other stuff, I’m probably glad that my memory for what I read is so bad now because I barely remember any of those details from earlier books.
Robin: Yeah, this is part of why it felt like the book took a lot of shortcuts. And unfortunately, a lot of the stuff that was tossed aside was the most interesting and provocative. It felt like everything was a prop to get Olivia and Lyon together, and then back together, and I was so frustrated by the machinations I couldn’t emotionally invest in the actual romance.
On the writing style:
Robin: The yearning felt very overwrought in this book, and the prose had some awkward moments. Like this one:
Certainly she was beginning to truly understand the power of her own beauty, and she knew the notion of her marriage settlements bestowed her with an extra frisson of allure.
(Kindle Locations 1511-1512).
Janine: The content was also awkward at times:
Lyon had become a man who could elude or escape any trap, by any means necessary.
Really? Any trap? I guess that puts him one up on Harry Houdini.
He knew that […] she preferred to take breakfast in the kitchen rather than the dining room because she liked the way the sun came in that particular window
So then where did her servants eat?
She laughed, and then gave a little gasp as he tugged her forward and then down a fairly steep slope, flexing his arm expertly, effortlessly, for all the world like a rudder on a ship. His strength was both shocking and humbling and innate.
How can physical strength be innate? We all have to exercise or develop it through our work; no one is born with it.
Jennie: I’ve been noticing what you’ve complained about before.
The one or two sentence paragraphs.
Everything is made to seem more portentous than it needs to be.
I started mentally copy-editing the paragraphs into longer ones.
It was very annoying.
I think the book would easily be 20 pages shorter without the unnecessary paragraph breaks.
Janine: Long’s books have always had short paragraphs, but this particular book read like a parody of her style.
Jennie: It was SO BAD in this book. By the end I swear if there’d been a sentence that read “He ate a scone” it would have been set apart in its own paragraph to give it dramatic heft.
Janine: My kindle found fourteen instances of “infinite” or “infinitely.” Twelve of “ironic” or “ironically.” Eight of “abstracted” or “abstractedly.” The latter isn’t that many but it’s an unusual enough word that I found it distracting.
On copyediting errors:
Janine: Readers have mentioned copyediting errors in Long’s Avon books in the past, and there are some bad ones here too:
Then again, indirectly, Lord Lavay and his friend the Earl of Ardmay were indirectly
And when he suddenly became brilliant and convex she realized her own eyes were welling with tears.
“But there existed – exists, I should say – people in all walks of life […]”
About the Authour
Janine: At one time anything Long wrote went on my purchase list. I loved books like Beauty and the Spy and What I Did for a Duke so this is frustrating and sad.
Jennie: I may be ready to let go of this author, at least unless or until I hear really good buzz on a new book from people I trust. I went into this knowing that it might difficult to fulfill high expectations – not that my specific expectations were very high but after a zillion books in the series all referencing the deathless love of Lyon and Olivia, I thought it might be hard to deliver. But I ended up having a host of problems with the book that weren’t even related to that facet of it. (Still shaking my head over the Louisiana plantation, sheesh.)
Robin: I had mixed expectations going in – hope for a great book, worry based on the series extension. I even pre-ordered it, wanting to make sure I was reading the final copy. In the end it just felt compromised and unthoughtful. Oh, well. At least Avon isn’t overcharging for digital books.