REVIEW: Trencarrow Secret by Anita Davison
“Isabel Hart is afraid of two things, the maze at Trencarrow where she got lost as a young child, and the lake where her brother David saved her from drowning in a boating accident.
With her twenty-first birthday and the announcement of her engagement imminent, Isabel decides it is time for her to face her demons and ventures into the maze. There she sees something which will alter her perceptions of herself and her family forever.
Isabel’s widowed aunt joins the house party, where her cousin confides she is in love with an enigmatic young man who surely cannot be what he pretends, for he is too dashing for homely Laura.
When Henry, Viscount Strachan and his mother arrives, ostensibly to use her ball as an arena for finding a wife, Isabel is determined not to like him.
As more secrets are revealed, Isabel doubts she has chosen the right man, although her future fiancé has more vested in this marriage than Isabel realizes and has no intention of letting her go easily.
Will Isabel be able to put her preconceptions of marriage behind her and take charge of her own life, or is she destined to be controlled by others forever?”
Dear Ms. Davison,
I don’t read too many Victorian set novels but every once in a while, I feel the urge. Your offer of “Trencarrow Secret” coincided with just such a rare urge. At first I was puzzled by the title for beyond it sounding gothic-y, I didn’t notice any secrets – at least not until the end. Still it was nice to not have the usual Rakish Scandal, Picked by the Duke, or Lady Learns to Love. All in all it seems like a very English way to title the story.
Izzy – goodness I want to shake her at times. Lots of times. I can understand Amelia’s genteel rant to Ashton that everyone’s so damned concerned not to upset Izzy. Izzy also willingly buries her head in the sand about a lot of things up til the action starts and then even after when she realizes – from David and Laura! – what she’s doing. But – this is what I might expect from a Victorian woman who has been sheltered by her family in an age that still celebrated helpless women. I kept wanting her to shape up and take control but that might be more 20/21st century stuff and not really what might be expected from most Victorian young women. She’s almost painfully naive about relationships though and is the type of heroine people might hate because she’s lovely but unaware of it.
But Izzy does grow and change. Baby steps at first but then with growing confidence. She has a few set backs with Jared what with feeling sorry for him but by his last betrayal and selfish act, she’s strong enough to cut him out of her life. She also learns and grows to respect other peoples relationships – seeing Laura with new eyes, understanding Melody and Walter’s true love and even being willing to see her father move on and set David free. And to her credit, Izzy gets a lot thrown at her this summer.
Henry – handsome, rich, titled, acts like a gentleman, is already in love with Izzy, supports women’s rights, charges to Izzy’s rescue and is kind to his mother and to animals. Tell me he’s got some kind of flaw beyond his own secret from school. Any kind. Otherwise he’s too perfect. A great guy anyone would love to bring home to mother but too perfect to be real. But then from what we’re told, he shallowly falls for her only because of how he first sees her and only later is this deepened after he actually gets to know her. He’s lucky she didn’t turn out to be a harpy shrew.
I have to be honest and say the romantic near misses about drove me around the bend. Henry is almost to declaring himself and someone interrupts, then he’s close again and Izzy rushes off because she’s confused, then almost there and something else happens. It’s not for lack of opportunity but – damn – just say it! Of course then that would end the book too soon. Still the romantic declaration interruptus did bother me.
A strong point for me is how the family relationships seem real and not faux “everyone’s wonderful.” Izzy and cousin Laura don’t always get along, Aunt Margot still likes to take control when she visits her family home, the servants must be treated delicately and Father is in charge. I do like Lady Boscawen and her sharp sense of humor especially as she teases Henry and then Aunt Margot by telling Margot she tried to piece together Henry’s letter from Evaline. And failed! She’d be great fun to gossip with at parties, I’ll bet.
Ashton and Amelia – the way Marie engineered their relationship was tricky and, as is said, more manipulative than Auntie Margot. It sounds kind of cold at first from Marie’s POV but then if she never had a grand passion for Ashton and had only come to just care for him, I can actually understand her reasoning and hopes that she could find someone for him to love and to take care of him. Oh, poor Amelia – the life of an indigent relation who’s neither fish nor fowl in the household and on top of it all is in love with her employer’s husband. What a load she carried.
I appreciate the fact that you don’t make these characters too PC. Yippee! Aunt Margot uses the lovely term “punka wallah,” most of the people at the house don’t support the vote for women and look askance at the progressive women’s societies who don’t take class into consideration. The view of life without AC makes me so glad it’s been invented. Omg, the sweating – I mean gleaming – and the wish not to be trapped in tight corsets – what a horror. The nod to the Victorian fascination with death in the covering of mirrors was a neat touch.
What’s the deal with the smuggler stuff? It was suddenly introduced then dropped, never to be heard from again. – Oh, and what happened with Ivy the nursery maid? was confused about David for a long time. Then it finally dawned on me that Izzy was the only one in scenes with him until near the end.
The story gets slightly convoluted with tangents appearing and disappearing at times. You’ve invented a large cast of characters but I got to know them and wanted to see how things would work out. There’s growth and acceptance of things as they are instead of how it’s wished they are. I enjoyed seeing a Victorian household, how it runs and how it’s different from now, the differences in class and status even among those received by the family, and the fact that most marriages weren’t love matches in this strata of society. I wish Henry had managed to blurt out his feelings and that Izzy had let him. Oh, and maybe that she’d told off Evaline. C+
So, okay. I like the weird of the Victorian Age, so I’d be all about the sweat and the uncomfortable clothes and especially the death fetish. But I need even more realism. I really want a Historical Victorian that includes the big stink.
This raises some interesting questions and predictions–about David, for instance.
But this would be on the bottom of my pile. I hate spineless females. Even raised as sheltered and patriarchal, a girl still has brains. She still gets angry, whether or not she can do something about it. Just because these women’s spines weren’t supposed to show, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Plus, one of my biggest peeves with characters and writers who perpetuating it is people who won’t just spit things out. Unless they have very, very solid reasons not to.
@Bets Davies: I like realism in my historicals too and Davison does a good job at conveying how uncomfortable things could be even for the moneyed classes.
I won’t say anything more about David but if you like Victorian novels, by the end, his character makes a lot of sense.
I had to look up the mirror and death thing but then got fascinated reading about other Victorian death fetish stuff.
Usually it’s publisherus coitus interruptus that drives me nuts but here it’s just the plain old declaration of “I love you” that about did me in.