On a recent day of malingering, while, for once, I didn’t have any urgent commitments, I gave in to my need for a bit of escapist brain candy. Denise Domning has offered her book as a freebie on Amazon for a while, and since it’s described as a Regency romance, I was intrigued enough to download it–according to Amazon’s records, way back in March. What confused me: The cover didn’t look anything like a Regency romance cover: I was expecting more like a murder mystery with the darkling undertones and mysterious, floating playing cards.
The blurb was also barely descriptive:
One broken urn, one fallen earl and a kiss for a wager.
Add Scotland, an ace up a noble sleeve and a runaway card sharp,
then let the chase begin.
I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I started reading. The characters are engaging and the storyline is intriguing. The scene is set in the first chapter:
She turned on their father. “Papa, you can’t make a draw because you’ve bankrupted us. Have we ever emptied the house of furniture before leaving London after the Season? A few weeks ago a disreputable looking man tapped upon our door. He informed us that you had mortgaged this house to him shortly after Mama died. Since you have not paid him, he has foreclosed upon us. Let me say too that he very much enjoyed telling us he had never expected you to pay him and had always intended to take our home as his own,” Eliza finished with a defiant upward jerk of her chin.
Cassie’s heart ached as she again wallowed in the depth of her failure. She should have tried harder. How had her mother managed so well when all Cassie had been able to do was keep the lids on the boiling pots of Roland’s catastrophes?
The tone wasn’t the mistorical disaster described over at Insta-Love Book Reviews, but it wasn’t the formal relationships and filial support I would normally expect from a Regency romance. If you can suspend your inner critic on that count (and for me, it was easily done since Roland really is the height of a terrible parent) the story rolls along with the standard “he was my first love” and “how could society condone our union” tensions. I enjoyed the main character’s secret talent, as well, since it introduced a hint of the paranormal into that setting as well. From that perspective this original version of the book cover, then, does point to the potential for genre bending Domning brings to the table with the tale.
I enjoyed the story not because it conformed to Regency rules, but because the story was fast-paced and left me needing to know how Cassie would work her way out of the calamity set up in the first chapter. So for anyone looking for a bit of escapism in the vehicle of a character who needs to learn to find her own worth, this is a quick read with a few unusual elements–and worth the download at its current, free state.
I found this because author Barbara Mack is part of my Triberr tribe, and has been running a promotion for her book right before Christmas–and I’m certainly loathe to turn down the opportunity for a free read. She’s also on Twitter at @DeliciousFare, where she shares cooking tips and recipes (and, lately, her excitement over how well her book is selling).
The story is set in Missouri in the middle of the 1800s and builds an intimate cast of characters around Maggie, a girl with a happy childhood and an unhappy first marriage:
As a girl, Maggie had been happy, mischievous, and coddled by loving parents. Now her parents are gone, and she’s running from an abusive marriage. She has no choice but to take refuge in the wilds of Missouri. When her Uncle Ned gets her a job as a live-in housekeeper to the intriguing Nick Revelle, Maggie feels an immediate attraction–mixed with fear–for her employer. Nick has been hardened by a past marriage, and Maggie’s afraid her hidden secrets will make him hate her…
I’m a sucker for a good historical romance; I love being transported to another time and place by a skillful author. (That probably has a lot to do with why I like sci-fi and fantasy, too…) The focus on the natural surroundings, and the labor-intensive nature of living on a farm in that time are woven into the tale with a deft hand, giving a sense of the real need for Maggie’s abilities as a housekeeper when she arrives at Nick’s horse ranch. I wasn’t jarred by any anachronistic references, though I could certainly appreciate the sly introduction of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Vindication of the Rights of Women as a way of explaining Maggie’s unusual (for the time) inclination toward becoming a mistress rather than a wife–though her experience in her first marriage could be justification enough to avoid becoming chattel a second time.
Nick has his own unhappy past, but is quick to notice Maggie’s irrational fear of men. In the early part of the story, he works hard to help her overcome her inclination to hide from life, and Mack does a great job showing the growth of their relationship as he helps Maggie find her sense of self.
“Maggie,” Nick said hoarsely, “You are safe here. I promise you that. I want you to know that you have a home here as long as you wish it.”
As for Maggie, she stared at Nick and wondered what he would do if she told him the part of the story that she had left out, if he would still offer her a home. The part where she had killed her husband, and that she was sure to be hanged for his murder if they found her.
This being a historical romance, you know the guy gets the girl in the end, but the sidereal view of the women’s issues of the day–to say nothing of the problems Missouri faced with allowing slavery while many of its citizens were morally opposed to that practice–added meat and depth to the story. I was happy to have had the chance to read this and am happy to recommend it to anyone else who shares my guilty pleasure in romances generally (there are a good handful of *hot* love scenes) and historical romances specifically. It won’t be free much longer, so snatch it up while you can!