on 9 May 2008
Reading an author's backlist can be an interesting experience. Sometimes you find the pattern of growth from year to year. Other times it seems as though the author just hatched full-strength, right from the egg. I've come to think that must be the case with Sandra Wilson. Certain things are always the same: excellent crisp writing, unique plot, characters with whom a reader can identify instantly, and settings that enhance the entire story. Some times one finds things that indicate the era in which the book was written, but not often. One thing you'll never find in a book by this author is same old, same old.
She has a knack of creating an entity that is whole and complete and not one part of it may be changed in any way without entirely deflating it. Her books can only take place in the location and era in which they are set, with no possibility of change, lest one completely destroy the aggregate.
Such is the case with Rakehell's widow. It could not possibly be placed anywhere other than London, in the early 1800s. Dueling had not yet become illegal, or if it had, the law was not enforced, and Alabeth Manvers became a widow at a very young age when her rakehell husband Lord Robert, fell on the field of honor. There wasn't very much honor involved, actually, but Robert's friend and second, Sir Piers Castleton, conspired to keep her from learning the truth about her husband's activities.
Having displeased her father by her marriage, the widowed Lady Alabeth is startled by a visit from the Earl of Wallborough. A member of the diplomatic corps, he is about to leave England for the continent, and needs Alabeth to sponsor his younger daughter--her sister, Jillian--for her London come-out, and it must be this year. Against her better judgement, Alabeth lets herself be talked into a task she knows will create nothing but trouble.
Of course, one of the very first men she encounters is Sir Piers Castleton. Try as she will, she cannot escape his constant presence at every event she attends. To add to her dismay, Jillian appears smitten with the gentleman, and scorns the man who idolizes her--Charles Allister, a childhood friend. But then, the Polish Count Adam Zaleski appears on the scene, and he is more dangerous than anyone could have predicted. He is a virtual twin to Robert Manvers, as well as a foremost concert pianist, who is lionized by everyone who attends his concerts. Jillian wishes for nothing more than to study with this wizard of the keyboard, but the Count is more intrigued with Alabeth. For a time, she falls under his spell, until finally, the veil is lifted, and all the characters are shown as they truly are.
Each of the sisters ends up with the proper gentleman, but it's rather a near thing. It's very obvious that the author did her homework regarding the musical elements; she never puts a finger wrong on the keyboard. Either of them, for that matter.