REVIEW: Lily by Patricia Gaffney
Dear Ms. Gaffney,
When I heard the news that many of your romance titles were being released as ebooks by Open Road Integrated Media, I felt a pang of jealousy for those newer romance readers who would have the opportunity to discover your work for the first time. When the opportunity came to interview you, Jane suggested that perhaps some reviews of these older books wouldn’t be amiss. It was natural for me to review Lily, since once upon a time it was among my top five favorite romances.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Lily fell out of favor with me at some point; that’s not the case. Unlike most romance readers (at least so it seems), I don’t reread. Not even favorite books. I’m not sure why not – for the first five or so years that I read romances, I reread regularly. I guess at some point I just decided that there were enough good new books out there for me to read; I didn’t have time to keep rereading things I’d already read. I keep my favorite books, to be sure, and wouldn’t be parted with them. I just don’t read them. (I’m sure the fact that they are in boxes in a closet with stuff on top of them contributes to this – if I had them on shelves and easily accessible, my habits might be different.)
My point, and I do have one, is that I haven’t read Lily in part or in whole, for a long, long time. Inevitably, over the years, my tastes have changed. So I approached the book with a measure of trepidation – what if it didn’t live up to my remembrance? Not only would I be personally disappointed, would I then have to (gasp!) give Lily a bad review?!
I needn’t have worried – while I found some flaws in the story (flaws I very well may have noticed the first time and forgotten), I still found reading the book, over all, a magical experience.
The book opens with Lily Trehearne dealing with the recent death of her father and the trying attention of her guardian, the Reverend Roger Soames, who insists that Lily must marry his son Lewis. Lily has no intention of or desire to marry Lewis; she only needs Soames to put up with her for a short while until she reaches her majority and gains a small inheritance. But Soames won’t take no for an answer, and threatens to have Lily taken up as a thief (he burns several pounds in the fireplace and then calls to his son to fetch the constable) if she doesn’t comply. Lily and Soames tussle, and in an attempt to get away Lily pushes Soames, who in true melodrama fashion falls and hits his head, and lies apparently dead on the hearth as the law pounds on the door. Lily flees in terror, grabbing the first coach out of town.
A chance encounter with a housekeeper traveling back to her employer lands Lily a job as a maid in Cornwall, which she figures is remote enough to hide in for the time being. So she comes to Darkstone Manor (!!), home of Devon Darkwell (!!!!), whom she first encounters drunkenly waving a pistol in the hall. It turns out that Devon is not normally given to such Elvis-like behavior; he’s especially distraught on the anniversary of the death of his child. Devon is normally rather buttoned-up and repressed.
Lily is going under the Dickensian alias of Lily Troublefield, and (at first at least) sporting a ridiculous Irish accent as further disguise. She is quite unsuited to the position of housemaid, having been raised as a gentlewoman, albeit an impoverished one. Her beauty and her innate nobility attract Devon’s attention, though it’s hardly love at first sight. Devon is definitely a product of his time; he just doesn’t understand why a housemaid won’t spread her legs for him. It’s only when he is injured (reluctantly participating in his brother Clay’s smuggling activities, Devon is wounded by the King’s men) and Lily must nurse him that a deeper relationship develops.
Devon and Lily’s romance is deliciously old-school in all the best ways; above all it’s a roller-coaster. He pursues, she retreats; she relents, he treats her like shit (afraid to love done wrong by a woman once blah blah blah). Lily is badly injured, and it’s partly Devon’s fault. So he’s nice for a while (well, kind of), and then there’s a big mis and he’s really, really not nice. She goes away and he pursues her and is not nice some more and then she goes away again and this time he pursues her because he’s realized he was wrong. And then a bunch of other stuff happens. Lily doesn’t lack for action.
One thing that struck me about the book is that it has an unusual number of villains (I guess if your characters are going to suffer that much, you need lots of villains to facilitate). There’s the Reverend Soames, whose fervent religiosity is revealed to be less than genuine; there’s the housekeeper, Mrs. Howe, whose religiosity is more sincere but also kind of violent and loony; Mrs. Howe’s son, the dastardly valet Trayer, and finally one whose identity I won’t reveal, since it’s kind of a spoiler to events in the second half of the book. The last villain, actually, is a bit of a pitiable figure, though his actions are such that I wouldn’t call him sympathetic.
Besides the (honestly kind of delicious) over-the-topness of Lily, there were a few things I noticed that mark it as an earlier, less sophisticated effort. I mentioned Lily’s silly Irish accent; in general her early behavior has some TSTL markers that really aren’t indicative of her personality as a whole. Even the fleeing after Reverend Soames is injured struck me as kind of hasty, though I took into account the fact that he was, as a man and a minister, much more powerful than she, and that 19th century English justice may have left something to be desired when it came to the fates of poor orphan girls.
Other than that, there were quite a few abrupt POV switches that forced me to reread paragraphs to figure out whose perspective was being relayed. Generally, though, the seeds of the author’s fine prose style are strongly in evidence here.
The characterization of secondary characters is very good. There’s Clay, Devon’s happy-go-lucky younger brother – he’s a bit of a rogue (I would’ve mourned him not getting his own book, but he has a fiancee by the end of Lily anyway). There’s Lowdy, another housemaid who befriends Lily and speaks in an almost incomprehensible Cornish accent (normally I would recoil at dialogue rendered in dialect, but it’s kind of fun to try to figure out what exactly Lowdy is saying). Most of all, there is Meraud, the mysterious moor-hermit who takes Lily in after she flees Devon. Meraud is thought by locals to be a witch, but mostly she just seems no-nonsense and a little strange; her avocation is the creation of giant sculptures of mud and straw, which, given that she creates these out on the moor where absolutely no one sees them definitely qualifies them as art for art’s sake. Meraud is a vibrant, unique character, and her relationship with Lily is almost as important as Devon’s.
Cornwall itself, with its unique and specific qualities, almost qualifies as a character itself. It’s full of rocky outcroppings and smugglers and treacherous tides and pilchards; I’m reminded of another of my favorite romances, and the first book I reviewed for DA – Penelope Williamson’s Once in a Blue Moon.
I write this review aware that some readers may read the book and just not be able to handle its old-fashioned style: either the relentless sturm und drang or the dickishness of the hero will put them off (possibly both). But I know that there are readers out there who haven’t read Lily who will love it as I do. My grade: straight A.
I totally forgot about Meraud!
I love Gaffney’s historical romances too, and this is a lovely review. She was one of the authors that made me fall in love with historical romances. I need to dig out my old paperbacks and reread them. I was planning on buying the ebooks to replace my paperbacks, but the prices are kinda high for me.
Shame the ebook’s overpriced. A $9.99 list price for something that’s 20 years old is just greedy.
I like Lily. I love To Have and to Hold,. I wish that book was available on eBook, but, thus far, no such luck.
And Ridley, on Amazon, Lily is 7.99. Where did you see it for 9.99?
@Dabney Grinnan: The list price is $9.99, Amazon is discounting it by $2.
Amazon is discounting from $9.99. I presume someone must be offering it full price.
@Ridley: I don’t know that I’d call it greedy. I mean, if someone can get it as a used paperback for less, they are welcome to do so, right? Is $9.99 much more than other e-books? I don’t pay that much attention to book prices (if I want a book enough, I’ll buy it; I’ve always been that way, even with hardcovers), but I thought e-book prices varied a lot in general.
I guess what I’m saying is that the fact that it’s 20 years old isn’t really relevant to me. It’s a GREAT book, and I’m willing to pay more for great books. Now, of course, I understand that it’s a different thing when you’re having to take a chance based on someone else’s review. Also, one of the reasons I don’t pay that much attention to pricing is that I’m not that fast of a reader. If I were one of those book-a-day types, I guess I’d have to.
@Dabney Grinnan & @Jennie: I think one of my problems with Lily is the same problem I have with many of Gaffney’s books: that I read To Have and to Hold first. I fell so hard for that book — it’s my favorite in the whole genre — that when I read Lily I was disappointed in it for not having the same subtleties, nuances and under-the-surface depth. It struck me as over the top with the melodrama and Devon’s ultimate remorse came too late. I didn’t really believe they would have a solid marriage.
Also, those revolving POVs! Gaffney’s writing grew so much during the years she wrote romance. Lily was an early effort by a writer capable of brilliance and I think that shows.
@Ridley: I’m not sure I’d pay ten bucks for Lily but I’d easily pay fifty for an electronic version of To Have and to Hold. I wouldn’t blink, that’s how much I love that book.
That is my problem too–I read THATH first, then explored Gaffney’s backlist. Lilly and Sweet Treason are neck and neck for my least favorite Gaffney. The heroes are abusive, and unlike Sebastian, they aren’t presented as in need of change–and they don’t change. It’s more like: whoops I had the wrong end of the stick about what you were really up to and injured you physically/drove you out into the snow to give birth in a cave etc, but now I know that you aren’t really a whore so let’s put all that behind us! Shades of Stormfire for me, I’m afraid.
@Jennie Yes, $9.99 is like paying hardcover prices and given that all the editing, copyediting has already been done, there is essentially little cost to producing this book at all. Certainly little effort went into the cover.
The $9.99 list of the Gaffney books is pretty cheap compared to the $14.99 list Open Road puts on most of the back list stuff they’ve been putting out. ;-)
Hopefully once these have been out for a bit we’ll see them getting heavily discounted like a lot of Open Road’s stuff seems to be from time to time. I’ve seen a lot of those $14.99 list books on sale for $1.99-$3.99 from time to time.
I loved Lily. I was in the right mood for the over-the-topmess when I read it. I envy readers who’ll be experiencing it for the first time.
I’m with DM in that I loved THATH, with its dark hero and heroine, To Love and To Cherish, with its dark heroine and much lighter hero (pure at heart yet still sex on a stick!), not to mention Wild at Heart (raised by wolves!) and Crooked Hearts (Jewish hero!). Somehow I just couldn’t make it through Lily. Perhaps it was the over-the-topness of it, but early on I decided I didn’t care about Lily or her supposed True Love and just stopped reading.
@Janine: I felt that because the sacrifice that he made was so great, it balanced things out. I didn’t really disbelieve the HEA, but I think it’s almost easier for me to believe HEAs in books that are OTT and melodramatic, because the emotions are so heightened and not really realistic anyway.
@Jane: Point taken – though I swear I did notice some typos!
@Brian I know. I put a few of these in my Kindle wish list. I’ll wait for the prices to go down.
I’m in the $10 is too much for Lilly, but I’d pay $30 for THATH camp. And I just paid over $10 for a couple of Flashman books for the Kindle, even though I already own them in hardcover and paperback. For Flashman I didn’t feel the price was too high, even though the books came out decades ago. It’s not the format that triggers my price sensitivity–it’s the content. If the content is timeless and full of enjoyment, then I feel like I’ve gotten good value for money even at $10 and up. The problem with Lilly–and for a lot of mass market romance right now–is that the content is disposable. It’s a one-time-read. I won’t return to Lilly (or say, Julie Anne Long’s Beauty and the Spy at $11) for a second read. There aren’t layers and layers of meaning–and the storytelling doesn’t have the kind of complexity that yields up new discoveries with every reading. Those books are consumable–I read them, enjoyed them, and now I’m done with them–whereas I re-read THATH once a year.
@DM: And that’s why for me, it is worth $10 – I agree that it’s not as deep as many books and doesn’t have the layers that make rereading worthwhile. When I did reread, I reread the emotional scenes though; heartrending scenes were well worth rereading for me, back in the day.
I guess I compare it to spending $10 on a movie – I like Lily better than many movies I’ve spent that much money on.
It’s entertainment, and there are a number of factors that go into whether the price for a baseball game/opera/book/movie/whatever is “worth it.” It’s all highly subjective, but for me anyway, $10 isn’t an excessive amount for an piece of entertainment that gives me a couple of hours of enjoyment.
@DM: Agreed! It is really a problem when you first try an author with her most brilliant work (which IMO TH&TH is for Gaffney). Things can only go downhill from there.
@Susan/DC: Those are my favorite Gaffneys too and for the same reasons.
@Jennie: I can see that POV and I think I used to take OTT and melodramatic books that way when I was in my teens and early twenties. But by the time I got to Lily, I was in a different place and that flavor of book no longer necessarily helped me get over the hump of an implausible HEA. I’m with DM all the way; I think books like Lily and Sweet Treason suffer from the inevitable comparisons to To Have and to Hold.
I read this one so many years ago I remember very little about it – only enough to know I liked it enough to keep reading Gaffney. But how on earth could I forgotten a name like Devon Darkwell of Darkstone Manor? My word that’s a mouthful. and hard to say when you are so busy laughing at the same time.
Surprisingly, I have yet to try a book by Patricia Gaffney despite my nearly 3 decades of being a romance reader.
The hero sounds like a jerk and usually while that’s off-putting, I hope he grovels like crazy to win back the affection of the heroine.
Trying out all the recs listed in all the commenters’ posts! Thanks everyone!
I’ve never read anything by Patricia Gaffney before, but reading this review, I was strongly reminded of Mary Balogh’s More Than A Mistress.