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History + Romance = Splendid!,
This review is from: Lord Buckingham's Bride (Hardcover)
Orphans in previous centuries didn't have it too easy. Orphaned young ladies were at even greater risk without a strong parent or brother to protect them. Such was the case with Miss Alison Clearwell, who, while not quite an orphan, might as well have been one, her father being in far away Jamaica. Now, having graduated from Miss Wright's Academy for the Daughters of Gentlefolk, where she'd lived for many years, she was on the way to Russia and an uncle who had promised a home to the daughter of his highly-regarded brother.
The trip was a near catalogue of disasters. Accompanied by a chaperone, Alison reluctantly set sail for Russia. The chaperone abandons her in Stockholm, and then the boat catches fire and sinks! The captain sends Alison off to a local Inn with the few belongings she's managed to salvage, but there, unhappily, she catches the eye of a young Russian, Prince Nikolai, who decides he wants her. No ifs, ands or buts!
Fortunately, the young seaman who escorted Alison to the Inn alerts her to the inherent difficutly, and for a while, it seems all is well. Nikolai is not about to give up, however, but before he can achieve his goal, he is foiled by Lord Francis Buckingham. Francis immediately realizes the danger inherent in the situation, and suggests they pretend a courtship to fend off the amorous Russian. Not knowing the identity of her rescuer, Alison agrees, and only then discovers he's the fiancee of her best friend from school. It seems Lord Buckingham is on his way to a very private meeting with Czar Alexander, who wishes to add an English blood-line to his famous stables, and it's the Buckingham horses that he wants. There is a also a super-secret mission to the new Russian leader about which no one knows. Or do they?
In 1802, the new Czar Alexander I, at the young age of 24, was not at all anxious for war. As Napoleon was not anxious either, at that particular moment, a tremulous peace was in existence. Unknown to either, Prince Nikolai wants a war for his own private reasons. His sister, the Countess Irina, is very happily mistress to the Czar, whom she wants to marry, but sadly, she is not high enough born for that, no matter how much she loves him. Nikolai, however, sees only the slight to their family line by the Czar's resistance, and plans to bring down the new Czar. Nikolai's sumptuous yacht--complete with lynx--is named for his sister.
And so it begins. One would think Ms. Wilson had grown up and spent her entire lifetime in St. Petersburg, so real does it appear here. You can nearly hear the water softly lapping at the stone steps that lead from each palatial residence along the Neva. One of these homes is occupied by Alison's uncle Thomas Clearwell, whose second wife Natalia Razumova is from Nikolai's home province. Thomas has a son, William, by an earlier marriage. Unknown to almost everyone, Lady Pamela Linsey, Alison's friend who is engaged to Lord Buckingham, is secretly in love with William, and he with her.
When Alison is kidnapped, Francis realizes the truth and the danger. He must rescue her, and then marry her, because he loves her, even though she refuses to believe it. Actually, she wishes it were so, but has heard all too much about how much Pamela loves Francis, so of course, he can't really be in love with Alison.
Except that, almost nothing here is as it seems. Ms. Wilson has outdone herself with this marvelous historical novel of a type not seen too often in recent years. It's a closely (and colorfully) woven tapestry of love and intrigue mixed with danger and distrust that won't soon be forgotten.