I wanted to like this book. The flyleaf made it sound interesting – young lady’s father dies and she has to marry his heir, the new earl, who is her second cousin; a strange French relative appears on the scene with unusual consequences. All sounded reasonably positive and I settled down to read a good yarn.
I didn’t get it. What I got was a very disappointing, abrupt story supposedly about miscommunications being resolved and some lost emeralds and a possible murder. It started off well with our heroine, Arabella, meeting Justin who she thinks is one of her father’s bastards, not realising he is actually her second cousin and the new Earl (her father had withheld from her that there was any surviving male in his family). Arabella is a feisty, tomboyish young girl of eighteen and she’s great fun.
From this first major scene it all goes downhill. Arabella and the earl marry according to her father’s wishes but he decides she has slept with the French comte staying with them and he virtually rapes her on their wedding night. No matter how much she protests her innocence he doesn’t believe her. What seemed like it might be a light, delicate book ends up discussing sodomy and with incest taking place too. Decidedly uncharming.
Arabella is very hard to understand. Her new husband treats her appallingly yet she falls in love with him. He seems an incredibly un-rounded character – perfect in every way except that he believes his wife has previously been unfaithful, and is semi-violent and threatens to strangle her. Why is he so thickheaded about that? It doesn’t fit at all.
The sub-plot of Arabella’s half-sister Elsbeth and her fling with the comte (who turns out to be her half-brother, thus the incest) doesn’t work too well. There’s another romance, between Arabella’s mother and the local doctor, which DOES work – although Ann (the mother) seems to recover remarkably quickly from an 18 year dreadful marriage.
The dialogue between the characters is very strange. It’s all done in short sentences. Nobody says anything complex. They all want to strangle each other. Or kill the comte. Even Arabella. The earl threatens to strangle Arabella. She doesn’t seem to mind. Do you get the picture?
Overall this book was a missed opportunity. The whodunnit aspect wasn’t even very gripping and by the end of it I was just glad it was all over. The expectation that they would all live happily ever after seemed distinctly unlikely to me.