Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lord Somerton's Heir by Alison Stuart

Note:  I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, via Romance Review Magazine
My Experience:  B+
Synopsis:  From the battlefield of Waterloo to the drawing rooms of Brantstone Hall, Sebastian Alder’s elevation from penniless army captain to Viscount Somerton is the stuff of dreams. But the cold reality of an inherited estate in wretched condition, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his cousin’s death, provide Sebastian with no time for dreams — only a mystery to solve and a murderer to bring to justice.
Isabel, widow of the late Lord Somerton, is desperate to bury the memory of her unhappy marriage by founding the charity school she has always dreamed of. Except, her dreams are soon shattered from beyond the grave when she is not only left penniless, but once more bound to the whims of a Somerton.
But this Somerton is unlike any man she has met. Can the love of an honourable man heal her broken heart or will suspicion tear them apart?

I absolutely enjoyed Lord Somerton's Heir.  In this romantic mystery, Sebastian Alder survived Waterloo, barely.  As he recovers, a woman appears to inform him that now, he is Lord Somerton.  Removed to better chambers and an increased hope of actual recovery, he finds the legacy a great deal more trouble than it seemed to be worth.

The Somerton inheritance was a tainted privilege.  In some ways he was no better off than he would have been if he had remained a penniless officer of the line on half pay. At least then he only had his siblings and himself to worry about. Now he had a household and an estate, all claiming pennies from a purse that looked decidedly the worse for wear....  Where had it all gone and how, in God’s name, was he expected to restore the family fortunes?

He had thought the matter through in the tedious hours in the coach and decided that if he thought of the task ahead as being akin to a sudden promotion to Colonel of a regiment, it did not seem so daunting. 

Sebastian meets the new family, assumes his new responsibility and intends to make provisions for his brother and sister.  As soon as he untangles the financial mess Anthony Kingsley left behind.  There are hanger's on, wise granny, an aunt and dozens of cousins, plus tenants, retainers and servants to assess and get to know.  Always near by, ready to offer assistance or subtle guidance, is Isabel.  He sees her wounds, the grief she struggles beneath and that she is trying to reach beyond the sorrows and anger.  Through Sebastian's eyes we observe Isabel's healing steps, stumbles and set backs.  It was an interesting perspective because generally the socks are on the other foot.

This story is slightly Gothic in tone, the writing smooth and gently reflective.  There was an old-fashioned pace I really enjoyed.  There was no rush of the romance, the story or the ending.  The dialog kept you in the period without effort or cliches.  Characters were believable, though slowly revealed.  Personally I like that but others may find the bits and pieces revelation too old skool.  Secondary characters weren't two dimensional though the villains were both over the top once their disguises were stripped away.  I was disappointed by the second villain's big reveal.  For all the realism it brought to the story, I felt manipulated and a wee bit resentful.

I liked Sebastian, his siblings and Isabel.  I appreciated how the tragic past was handled as part of the story, not a cudgel to wallow in and create more angst.  They were the Ordinary Folks we all think we are until trials come our way and we learn not only is there more to us, but less as well.  Confronting their own failings, they have compassion for other's.  Mostly, it was absolutely wonderful to read an Awakening Story that wasn't all about the sexual attraction or trumped up conflicts that reduce hero and heroine to argumentative banter based on misunderstandings.  They were cautious with each other, kind to themselves even.  Taking time, giving support and space as needed, Sebastian and Isabel's story advanced even as the mysteries, debts and confusions mounted to a larger pile.

I had a bit of difficulty with the last couple chapters of this book.  It tied up "too neatly" for me.  I like a bit of conflict left hanging, things to work through together in happily ever after land.  In fairness, the financial situation is probably Huge Enough, not to mention the "secret" Sebastian has chosen to keep.  I believe that will come back to bite them both in the end.  Of course,  it could simply be the fact  I seldom like epilogues and this one was a bit too sweet for me. That said, I did enjoy 98.7% of the book, the writing style, characterizations, and well-handles story line.  Definitely will look for other works by this author. I recommend Lord Somerton's Heir for when you're in a Traditional mood, looking for a meatier story with a gentle romance.

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