Monday, June 13, 2016

The Earl's Wife by Amy Lake

Back in the Day Review

Published:  2001
Reading Mood:  Classic Coze with Humor & a Dash of Gothic-ky Goodness
Synopsis:   Claire de Lancie is in desperate need of a husband when she meets Edward Tremayne, the Earl of Ketrick. Their marriage of convenience is followed by a surprisingly idyllic few weeks at the Earl's country estate. But the Earl soon seems driven to push his young wife away. In London they go their separate ways, until Claire's carriage is waylaid.

First, the secondary characters for this novel are groovy!  I have a thing about secondary characters, knowing that is what I would have been in life back in the day.  Without apology, I confess I have a soft spot for the housekeeper, scullery maid, valet and poor relation that are treated with the characterization respect they deserve.  In this book, it is the brother Jody, fifteen, and the mistress, Lady Pamela that *makes* this book for me.  Well, yes, I enjoyed Claire and Edward too.

This is a Classic Regency; the marital intimacy is tastefully implied not described.  There is a pleasant omniscient narrator in places that I enjoyed, points of view from many characters handled with a deft hand that never leaves you confused or flipping back and forth.  The situations are plausible; the historical details accurate, reactions consistent with the era and the characters believable.   You will not find a twentieth century woman or a new-age sensitive guy in costume in The Earl’s Wife.  Huzzah!

Be advised Back in the Day Reviews contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Claire is flitting through ball rooms without anyone discovering there is no actual Aunt Sophie sponsoring her and that her vague brother is fifteen and usually found waiting in the alley, not on the dance floor.  She is trying to find a husband that will not look too closely at her family situation, such as it is.

"It is not as if I'm planning to make a fool of my husband, either.  I'd work hard to be a good wife, and he would never cause to regret offering for me."  She reminds her brother.  He is fretting that she is being so practical, missing a chance for love.  Since "The de Lancies were minor French nobility at one time, but they lived in England for the better part of a century" it isn’t as if she is cheating anyone either.

Enter Lord Tremayne, the twelfth Earl of Ketrick, “Always standing a bit . . . taller than the rest…. a strong man–rich, handsome, a wonderful lover–yet he had been felled by one glance from a slim, raven-haired chit.”  Moments after being informed one of her suitors is about to marry another, Claire is introduced to Tremayne by his mistress - yes, you read that correctly.  During their first waltz together she decides to tell him the truth, or rather, not to lie to him as she had others.

He could ruin her with a single word and wasn't likely to be fobbed off with stories of made-up cousins or Aunt Sophie's megrims.

"There is no Aunt Sophie."
"And you make your way into the amusements of the ton-?"
"I just ... show up.  Most people assume I'm someone's daughter, or that Aunt Sophie is around somewhere, even if they can't remember her surname just then."
The earl laughed, amused despite himself, "why?"
"I must find a husband.  Soon.  I have a legacy from my mother, but it is under the control of my ... uncle."
"Why does your uncle not help you?" asked the earl.  "Does he exist?"
"He exists as much as you do," she retorted.  "One more loathsome, arrogant, self-important male-"
"I think I get the idea."
"Our parents have been dead these nine years and there truly is no one else.  Our family is of good name and I'm simply looking for an older man, a widower, perhaps, who would be happy with what I can offer."
Edward understood her meaning well enough.  An older member of the gentry, his estate secured and heir already in hand, wouldn't need to look much further than a pretty face.

At the conclusion of the waltz, realizing he has no chaperon to return her to, he encourages her to join him on the terrace.  She obliges - really how can she object without risk?  He barely argues with his better nature before kissing her.  Claire's response?

"Are you quite through?"

Indifference stuns him - never has he experienced this!  He is braced to set her down and remind her of her place but what comes out of his mouth is, "Marry me."
She slaps him and runs for it!

As her brother Jody and [soon-to-be ex] mistress Lady Pamela conspire to ensure Edward and Claire meet in the park, another conspiracy is afoot.  Claire is shot, in the park - well, in the shoulder while walking in the park.  Good heavens, what is this world coming to when people are shot in Green Park?!  And her apple green muslin walking dress ... well, it is ruined, just ruined!  Predictably, Lord Tremayne carries her off to his home followed by mistress and brother.  From there it is but a matter of time before marriage is inevitable.

"Claire de Lancie was young and healthy, and it was time for him to sire an heir. It would all work out very nicely. A marriage of convenience, without emotion, in which the grateful bride would be content to stay at his country estate– with the children, of course–and his own life could continue much as before. Even better than before, Edward told himself. In London he would be free to pursue the many willing ladies of the ton, with no chance of an unfortunate misunderstandings regarding marriage. And during his infrequent visits to Wrensmoor he would have the delectable Claire."

Can you hear my laughter?  It *never* goes as smoothly as all that, does it?

But first, we must dispose of the mistress [& make sure she is in good stead for the next book]:

“I won’t be back, Pam,” he said. 
She nodded. “I know.” 
“I mean, I will be back to town. Without Claire. But . . . ” He hesitated. “I don’t know why it should matter. Perhaps it’s because she knows you and has seen us together.” 
“Edward, my dear, I like Miss de Lancie. I wouldn’t have you.” She was entirely sincere, and Edward knew it.

Then we must confront the pedophilic, pox-ridden Uncle that has been dipping generously into the dowry and inheritance of his wards.  I did admire the way Lord Tremayne handled him, though I doubt anyone would get away with such railroading with a truly ebil uncle, pox or not.

And then there’s Tremayne’s Aunt.  According to Lord Tremayne, “Lady Gastonby never married, and so she had no husband to–to smooth the rough edges, I suppose. Her relations have always affected to be amused by her blunt speech and I suppose we must have encouraged her. It was a mistake, I can see now.” 

“Whoever’s fault it may be, my lord,” said Claire, “I will not be treated in such a manner, even though she is your aunt.” She was trembling with anger. Her family might not compare in importance to that of the earl of Ketrick, but it was no excuse for incivility.
“Please do not trouble yourself over my aunt. She will treat you with all courtesy, as will the rest of my family.” He smiled, and Claire’s hand on his arm tightened involuntarily. The earl’s smile transfigured his face.

How delightful to find a miss of the Regency Era handling difficulties without acting like a spoiled brat or a woman of the twenty-first century.  Traditionally, a miss presented her stand and hoped her father, brother, husband or guardian backed her up.  If he didn’t, she complied, or found her life could be worse than miserable.  Claire’s resolute determination to find a way for her and her brother to escape their situation within the bounds of what was possible, as well as her resolution to Be Happy by choice rather than to pine and mope made her an admirable heroine in my eyes. This accounts for much of why I enjoy Amy Lake’s writing.  She remembers the difference in perspective from then and now and uses it, instead of ignoring or re-imaging history, to draw you in to the story and characters.

As a final ingredient we are stirred up with the couple’s growing attraction and fondness for each other, spiced by a gothic-ky lurking past haunting Lord Tremayne so he cannot, must not, will never love his wife….  His reasoning is trickled out in the narrative millimeter by millimeter.  Part of me was desperate to know, another part wanted to [skim] while observing the river flowing by.  Usually, I’m all for the brooding details, but in this case, I was wary and certain I would feel like weeping.  Authors don’t hold back on the gruesome gossip unless there is a reason to do so, well, good authors that is.

It all works out in the end, happily ever after and the Epilog is a teaser for the sequel and previous book.  I’ve read both The Carriagemaker’s Daughter and Lady Pamela and am still not sure which one is my favorite of the three.   Re-reading them doesn’t help, I just sigh like a dofus, resolving to decide which one the next time.


You might also enjoy:

The Carriagemaker’s Daughter:  As Helène Phillips trudges through wet November snow to her new post as governess for the Marquess of Luton, she is nearly run down by a horse and rider. Lord Charles Quentin, the rider, is a guest at Luton and the two will soon make a deeper acquaintance—if they can avoid the machinations of Celia, the Marquess’s wife…

Lady Pamela:  The Duke of Grentham has asked Lady Pamela Sinclair to marry him. And despite the fact that she loves him, she can’t accept his attitude toward her previous relationship with Edward Tremayne. These two are going to need a great deal of help from Pamela’s friend Amanda Detweiler and the frustrated duke’s matrimonial alternative, Lady Millicent.

No comments:

Post a Comment