I admit, I enjoy the good fluffy romance novel every now and then. I like them because their purpose is generally to provide the easy happy ending we all want in life, to give us the same feel-good feeling of home cooked comfort food. Its the grown up version of a classic disney movie, it makes you believe in grown up fairy tales (though I admit, I still watch those too).
I didn’t enjoy this book because, from the description, I was expecting the usual historical romance plot. Up until the very end, I thought the girl would get the boy, the bad guy would be suitably punished, and everyone would be happy! Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that wasn’t really the case. Other aspects of genre were there in abundance. Looming gloomy English mansions were described in infinite detail. The wardrobes of all the female characters were vividly imagined, and fairly historically accurate. Every article of jewelry was given at least four adjectives.
The main character is a plucky American girl who knows what she wants, and is determined to get it: life away from her mother. She is the closest thing to American royalty that exists, the sole heir of one of the wealthiest families in New York. However, her mother wants the respect of the highest branches of society, and knows her daughter can buy it for her through marriage. She is determined for her daughter to marry into the House of Lords in England. Cora is perfectly fine with this plan, as long as it gets her away from her mother. Yes, the daughter’s name is “Cora Cash” … There’s some subtlety for you.
Mother and daughter therefore plan a trip to tour the counties of England, and pick out a husband. Of course, right before they leave Cora decides to beg her childhood best friend to marry her instead, so that she doesn’t have to spend months with her mother abroad. He (of course) says that he likes her well enough, but he wants to be a painter and go off to Paris to study with the masters and he must not allow anything to distract him from achieving his dream.
Oh well, not even barely miffed, Cora goes off to England, falls off a horse, lands practically in the lap of an impoverished English count who is desperate for some cash (pun intended) to brighten up his ancestral home. They are rather quickly engaged. And of course a battle of the in-laws ensues.
All the while, we are also following the story from the point of view of Cora’s maid, a girl of mixed blood from South Carolina, who is just glad she can find a job that lets her send home a little money to her mother. She finds that in England she’s only a second-class citizen only once because of her position as a maid, and not twice because of that and the color of her skin. She starts a passionate affair with the butler of Cora’s soon to be husband.
And of course, there appears to be some intrigue in the history of the Count. He was the perfect second son, frivolous and happy, until his father and older brother died within a year of each other. Now he is weighed down by a country estate he was never interested in, and the obligation to keep the family name respectable. He is also blessed with an overbearing mother who remarried a step higher in the social ladder the moment her first husband was cold. Needless to say, she is not enamored with his new wife.
Cora is having trouble fitting into the confusing and ever treacherous rules of English high society. She makes many mistakes, and is constantly humiliated by her staff and the various “friends” she’s made. Added to this, she doesn’t even know if her husband really loves her. But oh, look, here is her childhood friend who’s come to visit from Paris! Even though she’s been married for over a year, and now has a baby son to take care of, he’s decided to let her know that he was an idiot, and he really does love her. Rumors abound that her husband is having an affair, but he is there and will take her all away from it if only she would ask him to.
Ridiculously unrealistic and overly dramatic plot lines are standard operating procedure with this genre, but I think where I lost it was the lack of motive for many of the characters’ actions. So much of it was written as though the author was trying to incite emotion and drama into the story, but just didn’t quite get there. She has her characters going through the motions, reacting to the things that happened to them, but it just never felt fully formed. The motivations felt flat. The antagonists acted evil because they were evil. We were never shown why they had a grudge against somebody, or what their aim in ruining the lives of others was. They were there just because the author knew she needed to have tension in the story.
And maybe my beef with the end of the story is unfair. It was probably more realistic than any ending I would have preferred. I like gritty depressing realistic stories. And I like my fluffy fantastical romantic stories. But I just don’t like them mixed. That’s not to say no one should ever try to mix them, just that I don’t think this author succeeded this time. My personal preference rating: * Within its genre, compared to similar books: *** Will I read anything else by this author: unlikely, but then I probably wouldn’t have read this one in the first place, except that it was a goodreads advance copy.