When the Marquis of Amberley’s coach is waylaid by highwaymen and his coachman shot, he is forced to take shelter at the first house he finds and is subsequently trapped there for a week by a severe snowstorm.
Oakleigh Manor is the home of Rosalind Vernon who lives alone but for her devoted servants and an ill-natured parrot, cut off from the outside world by the tragic result of a childhood accident. But Rosalind is brave and bright and totally devoid of self-pity – and it is these qualities which, as the days pass and the snow continues to fall, touch Amberley’s heart.
On his return to London, the Marquis persuades Rosalind’s brother, Philip, to bring her to town for a taste of society, despite her handicap. But the course of Amberley’s courtship is far from smooth. Philip Vernon actively dislikes him; Rosalind appears to be falling under the spell of the suavely elegant Duke of Rockliffe; and worse still, Amberley is haunted by a dark and terrible secret that, if revealed, may cause him to lose Rosalind forever.
Publisher and Release Date: January 2016 by Stella Riley
RHR Classifications: Georgian Historical Romance
Time and Setting: England, 1774
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Lady Wesley
This is my first Stella Riley book, but it most assuredly will not be the last. Despite recommendations from several friends, I had put off trying this author’s work, but when she engaged British actor Alex Wyndham to narrate the audio version, I jumped at the chance to listen.
Because I am a word nerd, my first task was to look up the meaning of “parfit,” which turns out to be from Chaucer and is an English variation for the French word for “perfect.” In this book, Dominic, the Marquis of Amberley is handsome, charming, intelligent, and kind – a perfect knight to swoop in and rescue lonesome Rosalind Vernon. Dominic is a bit of a rake, but not nearly so much as society may believe. He doesn’t really care about the ton’s opinion and makes no effort to correct some of the more outrageous tales about his exploits.
Rosalind is twenty-two, unmarried, and blind. Ever since the accident that caused her blindness twelve years earlier, she has lived virtually alone at Oakleigh Manor, surrounded by familiar things, a devoted staff, and a raucous parrot with the vocabulary of a sailor. Her parents are dead, and her elder brother, a recently sold-out army officer, is not on the scene. Rosalind is content, however, with being loved and protected from the outside world. She has not one iota of self-pity, but in reality she is living the unfulfilling life of the proverbial bird in a gilded cage.
Dominic appears at the doors of Oakleigh Manor during a blizzard after highwaymen have severely wounded his coachman during an attempted robbery. Upon meeting the lady of the house, Dominic is gobsmacked by her beauty and astonished to learn that she is blind. Although he knows that it is improper for him to be staying in the home of an unchaperoned single lady, he rationalizes that the weather and his coachman’s injuries compel him to be on the premises. He is also just a bit intrigued by Rosalind and somewhat appalled at what he considers her brother’s unfeeling neglect.
During the days that follow, Dominic enjoys prompting Rosalind to step outside her comfort zone. They spend hours talking, go on little expeditions, and have a snowball fight. Dominic treats her with respect, like a fully grown woman and not a helpless child. Eventually, he confesses to her that he does feel pity for her, not because of her blindness but because of her solitary, reclusive life at Oakleigh.
Rosalind slowly blossoms in Amberley’s company and is intrigued by his suggestion that she should insist upon being brought to London for a season. The most beautiful scene in the book is when he is teaching her to dance and suddenly realizes that he has fallen in love with her. It’s always fun to read a story where the more traditional roles are reversed – he is a world-weary rake plunged into romantic love for the first time in his life. For her part, Rosalind is smitten by Amberley, but she has no expectations and thus no thoughts of true love.
Storm clouds appear on the horizon, however, as Amberley suddenly departs Oakleigh Manor for London, where he encounters Rosalind’s brother, Lord Phillip, who knows Amberley’s reputation and considers him totally unsuitable for his sister. Rosalind arrives in London as well, and things begin to get complicated, but I won’t spoil it by revealing more. There is a Big Secret (which at one point becomes fairly easy to figure out), the results of which are perhaps too easily forgiven. Rosalind and Amberley, however, are both such good, kind, honorable people that it is not too difficult to believe that they are able to overcome the obstacles to their HEA.
One of the joys of this story, besides the lovely romance, is the introduction of compelling secondary characters. Amberley’s best friend and potential suitor for Rosalind, the Duke of Rockcliffe, is so intriguing that we want to see more of him – a desire that Ms. Riley fulfills in the next book, The Mésalliance. Lord Phillip is by turns kind and infuriating, as he doggedly refuses to see any good in Amberley. His fiancée Isabel is a strong, independent, sympathetic woman, but her brother is her polar opposite – selfish and deceptive – and the closest thing to a villain in the story. Each of these characters is so well-drawn that their appearance midway through the story does not in the least detract from the main plot. And finally, there is comic relief from the ill-tempered parrot, Broody, a shameless scene-stealer who indirectly inspires a duel.
Narrator Alex Wyndham gives his typical first-class performance. As I have discovered in other books, he has the ability to subtly change his voice to suit a variety of characters – from the French dowager Duchess of Amberley to her sexy son to, yes, Broody. I have just about run out of superlatives to describe the excellence of his work narrating historical romances, so I will say simply that when you have listened to one of his narrations you will want to hear them all.
I am so glad to have finally discovered Stella Riley and look forward to the next two books in this series coming out in audio. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that her widely-respected English Civil War series will be forthcoming. As for The Parfit Knight, it is just a parfit historical romance.