October 2012, European Historical Romance (1564 England and Scotland)
Harlequin Historical, #1110, $6.25, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373297106 Part of a series
Oddly enough, while I was reading Tarnished Rose of the Court I also happened to be reading Meredith Duranís At Your Pleasure - which has a very similar plot. Both have sisters whose brothers are or were involved in treasonous plots, both have heroes and heroines who were in love in the past and were driven apart. Both also have heroines who were then married to abusive husbands.
Iím not suggesting at all that either copied the other, merely that they had very similar arcs and I happened to be reading both simultaneously. They are also both set in times where such high stakes conflicts make sense; The Duran book is set during the first Jacobean rebellion, and the McCabe revolves around the intrigue of the Elizabeth Iís Tudor court. The setting is particularly effective in this book. McCabe is an author who does her homework, and it works well here.
As to the particulars, our heroine is Celia Sutton. Though she serves the queen, she has been tarnished by her brotherís treason, and she has no family home. Elizabeth gives her the chance to redeem herself by travelling to Scotland to observe Mary (Queen of Scots) and assess the likelihood of her marriage prospects. The catch? Celia will be travelling with John Brandon, the man who took her virginity and her heart before disappearing to France. She hasnít seen him in some time, and has a lot of unresolved feelings about their involvement together.
John shares Celiaís feelings, but he knows why he left. He is directly responsible for exposing Celiaís brotherís treason. The whole reason he was in Celiaís neck of the woods in the first place was to uncover the plot; he never bargained on falling in love with Celia while he was there. When he spends time with her again, all of the feelings come back, and he finds that he just canít keep his distance. But can she ever forgive him if she finds out the truth?
Well, if John had read as many romance novels as the rest of us, heíd know that honesty is the best policy and that the ďwrongedĒ party is always going to find out the truth anyway. Since John lacks the knowledge of the typical romance reader, he drags his feet until the inevitable happens. Before then, he and Celia get quite cozy, even though she is very nervous about the idea of marrying anyone again (ever), and also knows that the queen will have something to say about her potential bridegroom.
For the most part, I enjoyed this book. As I mentioned previously, McCabe does a good job with unusual settings, and her rendering of the Elizabethan period is deft. Sheís not one for window dressing. That said, I couldnít help giggling every time Johnís ďcodpieceĒ came up. Iím only human, after all.
I also liked both Celia and John. There conflict is believable. John had a reason to leave, and while we know he should have let Celia in on his secret earlier, his reluctance is logical as well. Celia is equally sympathetic, and her unwillingness to jump right into another marriage makes sense.
The problem I had with the book is one that I have had with a lot of books this year. Basically, I enjoyed it but didnít find myself compelled to read it. I found it pleasant, but didnít love it, though I wanted to. I wavered between a C+ and B-, finally deciding on the latter since I enjoyed several aspects of the book.
If you are a fan of Elizabethan romances, Iíd go ahead and give this one a try. They are certainly hard to come by, and McCabeís research is always top notch. If you are looking for a book you just canít put down, however, I donít think this one is it.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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