Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY Ltd, May 2015
Time and Setting: England, 1760s
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Lady Wesley
A twelve-year-old girl is awakened in the middle of the night and escorted to her brother’s library where a bishop in full regalia marries her to a drunk, distraught teenaged boy. The groom and the two elderly men who accompanied him disappear, and the bride returns to the nursery. I had a hard time buying into this situation until I learned that this book was inspired by the real-life story of the second Duke and Duchess of Richmond. (You can read Ms. Brant’s discussion of this subject HERE.)
Fast forward nine years to 1769 and Deb Cavendish is living in Bath – alone, which is somewhat scandalous – except for her nine-year old nephew Jack, the orphaned son of her late half-brother – which also is somewhat scandalous, as his mother was a Gypsy. One day Jack and Deb stumble across a wounded young man, apparently a participant in a duel, in the woods near Bath. Deb tends to his wounds and falls in love at the same time, but the man is carried off by a stranger to recuperate, and Deb is left to dream about what might have been.
Julian Hesham, Marquess of Alston, cannot get the image of his beautiful savior out of his mind, but he doesn’t even know her name. Later, when Deb visits the home of Martin Ellicott, her French tutor, she comes face to face with Julian, who is Ellicott’s godson. Thus begins Julian’s courtship of his own wife.
After their forced marriage, Julian’s father, the powerful father the Duke of Roxton, had banished him to the Continent on account of Julian’s outrageous behavior toward his mother, with Martin Ellicott as his chaperon and teacher. Knowing that his son was headstrong and rebelious and fearing that he would marry some unsuitable foreign lady, the duke had decided that Deb Cavendish would make a proper wife for Julian, and Deb’s brother and guardian Gerald agreed.
After the wedding, Deb was convinced by her nurse that the strange ceremony had been merely a dream. At the age of eighteen, she had defied her brother Gerald and traveled alone to Paris to nurse her brother Otto through a fatal illness. When he and his wife both died, she returned with Jack to live in a respectable but not fashionable part of Bath. Her reputation had suffered among the high sticklers, but being a cousin to the Duke of Devonshire and a considerable heiress ensured that she was accepted among certain segments of Bath society.
Julian is smitten with his wife, but he fears that she will reject him because of his tarnished reputation. He is thought by all to be a rake and he has been accused by a influential Parisien, M. Lefevbre, of seducing his daughter and refusing to marry her. Deb is Julian’s wife in law, but he does not want her to feel compelled into becoming his wife in fact. Thus, he decides to court her as plain Mr. Julian Hesham and hopes to secure her affection before it becomes necessary to tell her the truth.
This aspect of the plot is a bit too far-fetched for me. I understood what the old duke was trying to do by selecting Julian’s bride, but why the secret wedding in the middle of the night? Why did Deb’s brother never tell her the truth? Here she is larking around Bath with suitors galore and she’s utterly unaware that she’s already married! Indeed, during her stay in Paris she came close to eloping with the artist Evelyn Ffolkes (who happens to be Julian’s cousin), and now she is being pursued by Mr. Robert Thesiger (heir to a baron but rumored to be the natural son of the Duke of Roxton). My goodness, this is an awfully small world. And when Deb does fall in love with Julian and they “marry” again, why does he still not tell her the truth? And why does this otherwise kind and loving man eventually reveal everything in the cruelest manner possible? And why does Deb go completely around the bend upon learning that she is married to a man she loves and who loves her back?
These are among the issues that really irked me as I was reading this book, but when I listened to the audio, they pretty much dissolved into the ether. I decided to quit asking questions and just listen to the beautiful voice of Alex Wyndham and his marvelous narration of this book. This was the first time that I have read a book and then immediately listened to the audio, and it really doesn’t surprise me that while I might have rated the book at 3.5 stars or so, Mr. Wyndham’s ten-star performance compels me to award the audio book a full five stars.
Don’t get me wrong; the writing is excellent. In fact, everything that I have read by Lucinda Brant is first-class and fully immerses the reader in the world of Georgian England. But in the reading, I kept second-guessing the characters’ decisions, while in the listening I was swept up by dialogue and events. And there are plenty of events: marriage, separation, meeting the in-laws, dodging a murderous villain, and all sorts of intrigue. One of the things I enjoy about Ms. Brant’s style is that she doesn’t keep the reader dangling for too long. Instead, she reveals pieces of the story as the book progresses, which has the effect of keeping me turning the pages, or listening late into the night as the case may be.
For those historical romance fans who have been gobsmacked by Nicholas Boulton’s presentation of Laura Kinsale’s books, I am thrilled to report that Alex Wyndham is every bit as good. His narrative voice is deep and lovely, but he skillfully segues from the aging, imperious Roxton to the French duchess to the young boys, Jack and his best friend Harry. He is very good with the various female voices – avoiding the falsetto that some male narrators adopt – but the star of this audio book has to be Julian. He is young and cocky but also tremendously warm and quite funny, all of which comes through beautifully in his voice.
Alex Wyndham already has narrated Ms. Brant’s Alec Halsey mystery/romance series and is set to do the remainder of the Roxton series. For reasons not clear to me, the first Roxton book, Noble Satyr, will be the last one brought out in audio, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to have read it in order to enjoy the remainder of the books.
Despite my quibbles about parts of the plot, I unreservedly recommend that you listen to Midnight Marriage.
(Interested readers also might enjoy Audiogals’ charming interview with Brant and Wyndham, where we discover that he is a Georgette Heyer fan.)