By Paulette Kennedy
Published November 2021
For the past several months, I’ve been posting mostly ARCs and newly released books picked up from the library. Which means my KU books have been languishing unread. In a fit of rebellion, I pulled a KU novel up that I’ve been meaning to read since last spring. I mean, library due dates are a little flexible, aren’t they? So while I love new releases as much as the next reader, watch for more obscure KU titles peppered in going forward. They’ve been ignored too long.
Here’s the blurb for this one: In June of 1899, Eliza Sullivan arrives with her half-sister Lydia in Hampshire, England at the behest of her late aunt’s estate. Despite not remembering the woman, Eliza has inherited her aunt’s home and fortune soon after her own parent’s deaths. With nothing left for them in America, the women are ready to make a new life for themselves across the Atlantic. But there’s a string attached: in order to lay claim to her inheritance, Eliza must marry within three months.
This being the time that impoverished noblemen actively sought out American heiresses, Eliza draws the attention of several eligible men in the area. But she falls for her neighbor, brooding Viscount Malcolm Havenwood, despite being warned against his questionable history and his family’s tragic past. It’s only after they wed and she moves into the once beautiful Havenwood Manor that Eliza realizes the warnings may have had merit.
There was a lot to love about the premise in this book and it starts off loaded with great historical scene-setting details. These, however, quickly die off with only a few passing mentions of new motor cars and electric lights. Regardless, the entire book was promising, hinting at a Gothic tale of murder in a crumbling, half-burnt out mansion. In fact, there’s even a quippy reference to Northanger Abbey.
Alas, the book never quite lived up to its promise. I think the author was trying to take on too much, with switched identities, mysterious disappearances, mum servants, and a conveniently psychic sister who’s main role was to provide warnings to Eliza (and land her own husband). I never connected with Eliza, and so read from a distance that kept me from caring too much about what happened to her. I often questioned her reactions to situations she found herself in. A deeper dive into her head might have helped that. I also doubted that a well-bred woman at the turn of the century would have shouted “F*** you!”, even when faced with someone trying to deceive and imprison her.
While no one would (or should) think twice about someone’s sexual preferences today, I found it odd that no one batted an eye about side character Sarah’s open preference for women, nor of her convenient marriage to a known gay man. I mean, it IS historical fiction and while I don’t agree with history’s narrow mindedness, I do think historical fiction authors ought to be true to the time period they’re writing about. Or maybe people in rural England a hundred years ago were more open minded than I give them credit for.
Final words – great premise but middling execution.
2.5/5 stars ⭐⭐+
Until next time, thank you for visiting.