As a debut book, this might have worked, except that the author did not do her research, and the editing was not thorough. I hate giving new authors not-so-good reviews, but maybe Amy Rose Bennett does have some skill in the writing process and just needs to clear up a few things. She has quite a bit of experience with the RWA and entering competitions, but from this book doesn’t seem to have received the critiques she needs to take her further. I would strongly advise Ms. Bennett to find a publisher, rather than going it alone, and doing a lot more research into the Regency era before she writes another one.
This could have been an interesting story, but it is badly in need of a professional edit and fact-checking. It has one editor and a proof reader credited, but even then quite a lot of grammatical and spelling errors crept through. Historical errors are down to the author. Without it, it remains just wallpaper. If a writer doesn’t fully understand the period she’s writing in, then she can’t get into the characters or the time and place, so this is very much a skim-the-surface book, or a story of modern people planted in a faux-Regency setting.
The cover is typical of the approach. It shows a woman with no neck in Victorian mourning dress with a bustle, so around 1880’s, with long, floppy hair, cut out in front of a castle on a peak. If I’d been looking to read this for pleasure, I’d have skipped it because I don’t like Victorian-set books.
On to the story. It’s set in September 1815, a few months after Waterloo, and it starts with a “mirror scene.” That’s the one where the heroine looks in a mirror and describes herself. Publishers hate that scene, together with the one where the story starts with a character waking up from a dream. Elizabeth, Lady Beauchamp (pronounced Beecham) is unhappily married to a man who, he calmly informs her, has syphilis. He wants his heir and he expects her to oblige. What a cad.
Not surprisingly, Elizabeth runs. She runs all the way to Scotland, where she gets a job with our hero, Lord Rothsburgh, (pronounced Rothsburrow). She goes as a governess, but he doesn’t need one, so she takes a job as housekeeper. If you’re not familiar with the period, that might seem a reasonable thing to do, but it isn’t. A lady, in however straitened circumstances, would never work as a housekeeper. And a woman with a couple of references would be checked up on before she was allowed near children. As it happens, his lordship has sent his children to live with his mother. But no, she wouldn’t become a housekeeper.
Does she have no friends in society, no money of her own (women were not “owned” by their husbands in this period)? What her husband tells her is grounds for a legal separation, which was much easier to obtain than an outright divorce. Why didn’t she do that? True, she wouldn’t have been able to marry again (or meet the hero, who was stuck in his Scottish castle), but that would have been the obvious solution to her dilemma. So there’s a big plot hole. Either that, or the heroine is of the TSTL variety.
The anachronisms come thick and fast from the first page. A “grandfather clock,” for instance, was a “long case clock.” One or two of these is, of course, fine, but there are many, many examples. I badly wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt, so I read on.
Let’s look at the story first.
Elizabeth, or Beth, arrives at the castle, finds there’s no job, and collapses with what sounds like malaria, known as the “ague” or the “sleeping sickness,” but isn’t defined. Lord Rothsburgh carries her upstairs himself, strips her and puts her to bed. Here’s why I really couldn’t warm to this hero. All the time he’s looking after this sick woman, he’s leching after her. This made me shiver, and not in a good way. Any good content editor would have had Bennett take that part out, but it’s here in all its gory glory.
“However, as he rolled her back then gently eased off the garments, he was surprised to see that she had quite an ample bust, despite her slimness. Through her wet shift, he couldn’t help but notice that her breasts were perfectly rounded and her peaked nipples were a dusky pink beneath the flimsy, transparent fabric. He swallowed and returned his gaze to her face, suddenly feeling as guilty as a youth caught spying through a keyhole at a woman attending to her toilette.
But she was still asleep, thank God. He was as randy as a stallion, his balls in sheer agony. And he hadn’t even taken off her wet shift.
To distract himself, he picked up her discarded clothes and draped them over a chair before the fire. Turning back was a mistake. Perhaps she had moved—he wasn’t sure—but her shift had rucked up around her legs, revealing linen drawers that clung to long, slender thighs. Christ, he would come before he’d even finished the job.”
Ugh. Just ugh. Or is it just me? Yes, he could have helped it. He could have found a female servant to strip her. He could have controlled himself better. He could have been less of a sleaze. He cares for her himself, of course.
He doesn’t really let up until he has her in bed. Which, for many readers, would be another problem. Elizabeth is cheating. Whatever state her marriage is in, however horrible her husband is, she is knowingly cheating on him, breaking the vows she made to him on their wedding day. Actually, I don’t mind this so much, but I know this is a big turn-off for many readers. Then there is a lot of sex, so if sexy books aren’t your thing, this book is probably not for you.
The story from then is a bit of a “Rebecca” story, right down to the portrait. No harm in that, I like a good “Rebecca” story, and I’d have read it with pleasure if it weren’t for the problems. The Gothic elements are confined to the heroine governess and the castle.
The last part of the book, without going into spoiler details, is also a bit off. By then, her husband is coming across as the wounded party, and although the author attributes many horrible things to him, textual evidence is not enough to convince.
So to the anachronisms and inaccuracies.
These came thick and fast, so I couldn’t get into the story. It read more like a Victorian transposed to the Regency, and would have been much better had the heroine claimed to have lost her husband in the Crimea and not at Waterloo. However, some were modern enough to make me blink and re-read it.
Here are a few (not all of them by any means). No one of these is a deal-breaker, at least for me, but taken as a whole, they made the story unbelievable and hard to get through.
“He guessed she must hail from the middle-classes.” – not in 1815 he wouldn’t. The concept of class is a Victorian one, developed by Marx and Engels. The idea didn’t fit with the Regency mindset. The nearest was Cobbett’s “middling sort,” but nobody in this period referred to “middle class” or its values.
He drinks whisky. Unless he has his own distillery, he couldn’t have. Whisky wasn’t sold commercially until the 1840s. So the author should have made a point of saying that his estate had a domestic distillery. It would have made for an interesting sideline, but it can’t be taken for granted that a man had whisky easily obtainable at this time.
There are several references to tartans and clan tartans, something that, again, wasn’t developed or available until Victorian times. Setts and suchlike were being developed in Edinburgh as a commercial tactic and forced on the Scots by Victoria and Albert. Plaids, yes, but they were the big, checked blankets that Highlanders had (not in this period, however, unless they were trying to make a point).
Brace yourselves – the heroine wore drawers. Nobody thinks it’s unusual for a respectable woman to wear drawers in this book. They were not worn, except by ladies of the night and women wanting to titillate. Moreover, until much later in the century, drawers were two garments, not one, and open-crotch. This is what I meant about knowing the period. Imagine using a chamber pot, and not only having to keep your skirts out of the way, but having to manage drawers as well. What costumers primly call “bifurcated garments” were only considered normal wear when the water closet started to be introduced.
He has scented soap. Back then, a few ladies had scented soap, but a man would not. He might, however, have used cologne.
The hero at one point is wearing “beige Kerseymere trousers.” Trousers were weird things in the Regency, heavily pleated at the top, tapering down to a tight ankle, and they were a dandy fashion. He’d most likely have worn breeches and boots in the country, or pantaloons. Not trousers. Beige is a Victorian word.
He asks her if she has “razorblade throat.” Where is he going to get razor blades in the Regency?
He offers to pay her fifty pounds a quarter, to be his housekeeper. What? A gentleman could live well on two hundred a year. He’s paying her a fortune for the time, and neither of them think that’s unusual. A housekeeper would be lucky to get £50 a year.
They eat in the modern style, with separate courses of one dish each, instead of one or two courses of a dozen dishes each. Food was served at the same time, so you could choose to have beef with your apple tart.
The heroine does drink alcohol on a regular basis. In the Regency? Water was undrinkable, and anyone who stuck religiously to tea, coffee and chocolate would have been considered odd. Wine was served with every meal as a matter of course. She wouldn’t even think about it, either, so this seemed a bit odd.
The hero has far too few servants. He would need between twenty and fifty to keep his castle going.
A character is referred to as “Sir Farnsworth,” instead of “Sir Henry” or “Sir George.” “Farnsworth” is a surname, not a first name. Knights and baronets (the only people who held the title “sir”) are called “Sir Firstname”
His servants call him “milord,” a term invented by the Victorians. “m’lord” might have worked, but “milord” is the kind of prissy, Victorian olde-worlde term that doesn’t really work in this era.
There were many words that weren’t around at the time, including, “Randy,” “sex” (in reference to the sexual act – “having sex” is a 20th century construct), “bloody” and “bloody hell” as curses – “Bloody hell” is a 20th century curse. Not only that, it’s vulgar and crude, not used by anyone above the uneducated members of society, “gotten” (shudder).
One of these would be enough to make me shudder, but the book is packed with them. You can’t get away from them. There is very little sense of history here, so moving the book to the mid to late nineteenth century would solve many of the problems thrown up by calling this a “Regency.”
As a Regency romance with a gothic edge, I can’t give this book higher than a D. As a Victorian romance, the score would have been higher.
A runaway countess finds love when she least expects it… but she can’t hide from her past forever.
Elizabeth, Lady Beauchamp, fears for her life. When she discovers her dissolute and long-estranged husband has syphilis—and he wants to beget an heir no matter the cost—she flees to a remote part of Scotland to begin a new life as the widowed governess, Mrs. Beth Eliott at Eilean Tor Castle.
When Mrs. Eliott unexpectedly arrives on his doorstep, the reclusive and recently widowed Marquess of Rothsburgh is both irritated and intrigued. No longer in need of a governess—his young daughter now resides with his sister’s family in Edinburgh—he proposes the beautiful widow fill a position of a different kind… Torn between staying true to her marriage vows and her wanton attraction to the devilishly handsome marquess, Elizabeth struggles against the temptation to become his mistress. But living a lie is not easy when you have fallen in love. And secrets always have a way of coming out…
No excerpt available.