REVIEW: Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick
Love is no game for women; the price is far too high.
Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year to find a husband more to her liking.
Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.
Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes.
With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.
Dear Ms. Meyrick,
A little while ago I read some non-fiction books called, “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England,” and Anne of Cleves Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife which made me realize I’d not read a book set in this era for a long time. Luckily for me, I soon spotted your book.
The first thing that jumped out at me here was the thoroughly period actions and thoughts of the characters. Bess Stoughton might be of age and a widow already but she’s still under the direction of the aristocratic Lady Allingbourne in whose house Bess lives and also under the control of her own father. Summoned home, Bess goes whether or not she really wants to and in this case she doesn’t as her father had married soon after Bess’s mother died and Bess stubbornly refuses to acknowledge her step-mother or half-siblings as her relatives.
Her attitude changes though as she finally gets to know her outspoken younger sisters (and I really want to see a story featuring Joyce) and discovers that her step-mother Emma shares Bess’s feelings about the revolting man Bess’s father wants Bess to marry. It’s Joyce who devises a way for Bess to escape after Emma gets her husband to unlock Bess’s bedroom door.
Edmund Wyard is an adult too but also finding it hard to escape the dictates of his dragon of a mother. Lady Wyard has decided it’s time for Edmund to marry and moreover she will be the one to pick and choose his potential bride. Feelings have no place in marriage arrangements – only family connections and alliances. After all, she did her duty at age sixteen and later on picked her eldest son’s wife. While he doesn’t utter any nonsense about wanting to marry for love, she finds Edmund’s insistence on meeting and approving her choices to be vexing but as Edmund is showing a stubborn streak, she’ll allow that.
Neither Bess nor Edmund is immediately gobsmacked with love at the sight of the other. In fact, they’re not that impressed with each other at first and it takes a while before they relax and show their true selves. As Edmund is supposed to be courting another of the young ladies in the Allingbourne household while Bess has hopes of a match with the son of a wealthy London merchant, nothing ought to have come of it. Nothing that is, until they spend time together and see the other is indeed the true other half of their souls. But this is a dangerous time when England fears papist plots and is ready to root out traitors by any means necessary.
This is such a lovely, quiet story. The period details are beautifully worked into the book in such a way that I never felt I was being fed the results of laborious research. Everything felt natural and in place. TRIGGER WARNING – the creepy neighbor Bess’s father wants her to marry is obviously a pedophile though not described as such. Once Bess is away from her family home, he doesn’t appear again though.
The pervading fear of Catholics and Papist plots is a plot device I can’t recall reading in a romance novel but it works wonderfully. With the action set during the Babington Plot (though it’s understandable that the average person wouldn’t know of it) and the English fighting the Spanish in the Low Countries, fears of a Spanish invasion and attempts to overthrow Elizabeth would not have been farfetched. The events of the last quarter of the book might seem terrifying to modern readers but Sir Francis Walsingham was driven by the need to protect not only the Queen but the English people from the horrific atrocities that were known to have taken place in the Low Countries and Paris.
The romance is of the slow burn variety and a lot of scenes are day to day life as people of the time would have known it. I appreciate that awkward meanings of period items weren’t shoehorned into the narrative. Most things I can guess and if I didn’t know it, the Internet is great and I learned about suckets, subtleties, and wafers. I also investigated the dances that the household enjoyed as well as the clothes they wore. Another delight of the book are the many scenes of women without men, showing the sisterhood and bonds that strengthened them in a time when men held most of the cards.
The characters are also period in that most do not think they’ll ever find romantic love in marriage nor do most look for it. Kindness and courtesy with the hope that fondness will develop appears to be the most they hope for and Bess fiercely lectures one flirting man who calls love a game.
Bess glared at him. She had no time for games or dalliance. She was intent on the serious business of finding a husband, something that could not be done with a head full of romantic fancies.
‘Love is no game for women,’ Bess snapped, ‘the price is far too high. Only a simpleton would be won by hollow words.’
Although the growing relationship between Edmund and Bess does progress in a stately fashion, once these two realize their feelings, there’s no doubt of it or their desire. They are, as a friend tells Bess, obviously two halves of one coin. It’s because of the earlier non-romantic view of marriage both Edmund and Bess hold to that when they finally believe they’ve found that rarity, it packs more of an emotional wallop for me.
They stood in the dark, staring into each other’s eyes, breathing the same breath.
By then Edmund’s lips were on Bess’s, gentle now but insistent, and nothing else mattered. It was as if she had not existed until this moment and from now there was no life that was not with Edmund Wyard.
His lips were against her forehead. She could feel his heart beating against hers. ‘Bess,’ his voice was low and breathless. ‘I love you.’
There was one answer, the words she had not dared to form. ‘I love you, Edmund.’ She began to weep slow, quiet tears.
He held her face between his hands and kissed the tears away. ‘I am going to marry you. Nothing will stop me.’
And nothing did. A-
Want to know more?
Elizabethan sweets including what suckets were and what you used to eat them.
How to dance the galliard which Edmund and Bess do. Edmund impresses Bess with his leaps!
How to dress as an Elizabethan lady – this lady is great fun to watch and very informative. There are lots of fiddly hooks and eyes. Watch for the feline photo-bomb. It’s apparently a scientific fact that cats like farthingales.