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This historical novel began rather well, I thought, with a harrowing scene of a young woman still in her teens enduring a herbally induced abortion, leading me to think that I'd picked a winner but sadly this promising start soon gave way to something far more mundane and much less enjoyable.
Jane Despard is the daughter of a country squire and her secret romance with the Earl of Salt results in a pregnancy. When she tries to contact the Earl to let him know of her situation, things begin to go awry due to the intervention of people who do not have Jane's best interests at heart. When Jane's father discovers his daughter's disgrace, he ensures that she miscarries the child and then he disowns her and Jane finds herself living under the patronage of her stepmother's brother, Jacob, a religious zealot and a man with his own reasons for disliking the earl of Salt. Jane's romance is at an end and her ruin is complete.
Four years later when Jacob dies, Jane finds herself being manoeuvred into marriage with the Earl of Salt through the terms of Jacob's will. The Earl believing Jane to be faithless and that he's unable to father children intends to banish her to his country estate once the marriage takes place but both his and Jane's futures turn out rather differently than either of them expects.
My initial reasons for downloading this novel were the promise that it was 'in the best traditions of Georgette Heyer' and the fact that it was being offered as a freebie for the Kindle. It's currently selling for £1.99 which isn't a huge amount of money but in my opinion, it's only worth it if you enjoy your romances to be of the Barbara Cartland/Mills & Boon variety and that you're prepared to accept it is of a standard and quality to which Georgette Heyer would never have put her name.
Despite the prologue being well written and engaging, it didn't take much more than the first couple of chapters to make me realise that this story wasn't going to be anything like a Georgette Heyer novel and neither was it going to be my cup of tea. The way the plot is moved forward is often rather clunky given that it's frequently through the means of overheard conversations or very stilted direct conversations which impart so much information as to make them sound totally unnatural.
The biggest drawback for me, however, was that the entire plot is predicated on a huge misunderstanding, a really annoying plot device because it requires all the main protagonists to not behave like rational human beings and talk out their grievances. This romantic couple do a great deal of talking during the course of this book, and the Earl also does a fair amount of storming about and hurling insults, too, but they never discuss their fundamental differences.
The Earl's ranting in his belief that he's the wronged party is far from endearing and in fact, makes him look a bit of an idiot. One minute he's raving at Jane and calling her a whore, all on the say so of one person, and the next they're making love. As for Jane, she begins their renewed relationship as a meek little thing who can't look the Earl in the eye and certainly never even attempts to set the record straight, before suddenly turning into a feisty and confident woman who is forever crossing verbal (though far from witty) swords with her new husband.
In the best traditions of the blessed Barbara Cartland, there is a baddie determined to prevent our star crossed couple from getting their fairytale ending but this character is portrayed in such a one dimensional and unrealistic way as to be laughably akin to a pantomime villain. If it wasn't for the fact that this particular villain is female, they would have been twirling their moustaches to emphasise just how wicked they were. Now I can understand why the villainess would dislike Jane; she's so beautiful, so sweet-natured and such a goody-two-shoes that I wanted to do her a mischief as well, but by the same token, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to make a life with the Earl of Salt. From the very beginning he came across as a bad tempered little boy who continues to take the side of the villainess instead of his wife, flying in the face of all the evidence presented to him.
Although I'm highlighting what I found less than good, there are elements of this book which are well executed. There's a good deal of historical detail woven into the narrative which does make for a pretty authentic background to the story, especially when it comes to the descriptions of the dress and manners of the day. However, there are also a few errors and inconsistencies some of which can only be put down to lack of research and others which are probably the result of bad proof-reading.
The first anachronism is an historical aside concerning St George's Day. The Earl is pondering a discussion in Parliament about moving the date from the 30th to the 31st. I may well be wrong, but my understanding is that St George's Day has been celebrated on 23rd April since its inception in the thirteenth century and also that April has always been a month which has 30 days. There's also a question mark over the age of the Earl. At one point it's revealed that he's eight years older than Jane who, by my reckoning is about 22 or 23 years old at the most but later in the narrative Salt claims he's 34. I'm no mathematician but 23 + 8 isn't 34!
I don't like panning someone's writing abilities not least because I doubt very much whether I could write a novel and these may be very minor points but they were sufficient to completely pull me out of the story and the frequent inconsistencies in the behaviour of the Earl and his bride made me dislike both of them and really not care whether they got their happy ever after or not. There are also a few instances where the author puts very twenty-first century words into the mouths of her characters which, again, detract from the realism of the story.
This is my personal opinion of the book and it may well be that someone else would enjoy the story far more than I did. For me, however, I found the plot followed too much of a well-trodden path with no surprises and the characters were little more than cardboard cut-outs and, quite honestly, weren't very likeable either. The book wasn't totally bad but I never had any problem putting it down and going off to do something else more interesting instead.