Desert Isle Keeper Review

The Golden Chronicles Series
(This DIK review was written by a reader)

Patricia Veryan
1990 reissue of 1989 release, European Historical Romance (1740s - 1750s [Georgian] Scotland and England)
Fawcett, Amazon ASIN 0449218007
Part of a series

Grade: A
Sensuality: N/A

This review encompasses the entire six books Golden Chronicles series. The ISBN, copyright, and pub date are for the final book, The Dedicated Villain. The series was originally published between 1986 and 1990 - some were reissued but none remain in print. The titles in this series, in order, are Practice to Deceive, Journey to Enchantment, The Tyrant, Love Alters Not, Cherished Enemy, and The Dedicated Villain.

Practice to Deceive

This is the first book in the fantastic Patricia Veryan series, the Golden Chronicles, and early on shows all the promise that make every novel in this six-book series a Desert Island Keeper for me. I read it in a matter of hours when I first bought it and now I re-read it at least every month.

The year is 1746. Before he lost the battle of Culloden in the Rebellion, Bonnie Prince Charlie amassed a sizable fortune through donations, but never got the chance to use it. Now his Jacobite supporters are making every effort to restore the donations to the impoverished donors before it is too late. The location of the treasure is held in a four-part cipher that is being transferred from Scotland to England at the greatest risk to its couriers.

None of this matters overmuch to Miss Penelope Montgomery. She has enough troubles of her own since both her father and brother passed away and her uncle succeeded to the title of Lord Delavale as well as the estate that goes with it. The new Lord Delavale, along with his amoral wife Sybil, are slowly bringing about the ruin of the estate through greed and neglect. They also have an accomplice, Captain Roland Otton, whose black hair and startlingly good looks, to Penelope's mind, in no way make up for his constant improper proposals. Now everyone on the estate is obsessed with hunting down a Jacobite fugitive with a large price on his head. Penelope is the only person who feels pity for the hunted man. When she is kidnapped by Gordon Chandler, however, she is shocked to discover that the fugitive is Gordon's younger brother Quentin, with whom she fell in love at the age of fifteen. He has apparently been busy fighting for the Scottish Prince in the five years since then.

Penelope persuades Gordon that her uncle would never pay her ransom and, with Gordon's help as well as that of Quentin's servant, effects a daring rescue, transferring Quentin from the study where he has been tortured by Lord Delavale and Otton to her bedroom! Alas for her hopes for romance; Quentin seems intent upon proving that his feelings for her are strictly those of a friend. He is in terrible danger to boot, for he carries one part of the cipher and if caught by the military will be drawn and quartered.

One thing I absolutely love about Patricia Veryan's writing is that her characters are completely true to the period in which they live, without in any way being unsympathetic to the modern reader. Quentin's motivations for acting in a strictly platonic fashion toward Penelope (for he is in love with her and has been for five years) are such that no modern man can imagine, but they are also understandable and moving. Penelope fails to sympathize with his reasoning, of course, and spends much of the book giving him more and more reason to love her. She in turn, discovers that some of the notions of his character that she has formed over their five-year separation are mistaken. The way she copes with her disillusionment and emerges with her love for Quentin stronger than ever is both realistic and believable-who could resist Quentin? I certainly can't. He is reckless, passionate, and tender, and I absolutely defy any reader to resist his green-eyed charm.

Two more standout features of the novel (and indeed any Veryan book) are the witty dialogue and the exciting adventure. For instance, when a fellow traveler challenges Quentin to a duel, Quentin immediately accepts, much to Penelope's dismay-she knows his sword arm is not recovered from the abuse it suffered at Otton's hands.

"Challenged to a duel! Are you mad? With that arm?" she cries.
"Well, I certainly cannot fight him with my feet!" Quentin snaps back.

It is one of the most tense moments of the book, for they are being pursued by both the military and Penelope's relatives and Quentin has refused to apologize for the imagined slight that led to the challenge, but I found myself laughing out loud at this exchange. Later, after another, far more serious duel, Otton shows a moment of promise for his character (which is expanded in the next five books) when he salutes Quentin as the better swordsman while sinking incapacitated to the floor.

I re-read this book in preparing for the review, and found myself swept away once again by Penelope and Quentin's story. The loving emotion behind every argument they have makes itself clear to the reader through the course of the book. They are never hateful to one another even while doing their best to distance themselves emotionally. And their regard for each other is such that they sometimes feel that their best is not good enough. Patricia Veryan's best, on the other hand, is very, very good, and fully displayed in Practice to Deceive. No one is better at creating a world that the reader feels is inhabited by real people. This book never suffers from too many characters, and the focus never wavers from Penelope and Quentin's plight, yet the secondary characters are so strong that I always am relieved that there are five more books in which I can meet my favorite people. Any time I want to read a tender love story with adventure that never fails to leave me breathless, I have only to open Practice to Deceive and I am quite happy.

Journey to Enchantment

Journey to Enchantment occurs in a rather grim place and time - Scotland just after the rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. The sparkling characterization, wit, romance, and adventure, make this novel anything but grim.

Fiery Prudence MacTavish hates the Sassenach with a passion. Her brother Robbie fought on the Scottish side in the war. Her hero, the mysterious Ligun Doone, must surely be a fellow Scot, for he helps rebel fugitives escape the brutal English troops. So, when her father allows a wounded English officer, Geoffrey Delacourt, to stay at their home to recover, she is outraged. Plus, Prue is convinced the handsome Delacourt is plotting her family's ruin. Worst of all, even as she schemes to unmask Delacourt as a danger to all she holds dear, her heart is rebelling against her better sense and slowly giving itself to the English captain.

Geoffrey's presentation of himself to Prudence as a harmless fop is, of course, a disguise, but it is nonetheless utterly hilarious to read about him infuriating Prudence by responding to an inquiry after his health with a feeble, "Oh, tol rol." He faces enemies not only from the military, but from his own home, for his family also conspires against him. His bravery and coolheaded nature make him an excellent foil for the impetuous Prudence, who is a courageous and passionate companion for him.

The intrigue involved in smuggling out Scots fugitives as well as the second stanza of an important cipher is utterly engrossing, but it takes second place to the tender romance that develops between the two principles. The image of Prudence ready to kill a massive Scot who has just knocked down the still-weak Geoffrey is one that doesn't fade easily. Their mutual devotion is heart-warming.

A good secondary romance develops between Geoffrey's friend, the dandyish Thaddeus Briley, and Geoffrey's "cousin," Elizabeth Clandon, but is left hanging to be resolved in The Dedicated Villain, the final book in this series. All the secondary characters are very well-drawn. The compelling Roland Otton returns from Practice to Deceive. This time he is out to get Geoffrey. He shows a flash of redeeming character when he pleads for the one thing he holds dear - his horse, Rumpelstiltskin. We also get some insight into Otton's past.

The twists and turns keep on coming until the very end, and at more than one point I had to resist the almost overpowering urge to flip to the end just to be sure the characters make it through intact. For a fantastic blend of adventure and romance, no one can rival Patricia Veryan, and this book shows that beyond a doubt.

The Tyrant

The Tyrant is one of my all-time favorite romances. Meredith and Phoebe, the hero and heroine, are two of the most endearing and courageous characters it has ever been my privilege to read about.

Phoebe Ramsay's life is untroubled by any concerns other than trying to persuade her family that Brooks Lambert, the man of her choosing, is worthy of her hand in marriage. That is, until her brother Sinclair goes to help a Jacobite rebel during a ball thrown at their parents' estate and Phoebe catches him at it. The terribly wounded rebel, who identifies himself as Lancelot Lascelles, begs Phoebe to enlist the help of one of the guests, Meredith Carruthers. Phoebe finds it easy enough to find Meredith, for he not only is the only gentleman who does not powder his hair, but he also has two scars running the length of his face on the left side. Meredith immediately comes to his friend's aid. Phoebe helps bind Lascelles' wounds, but soon discovers that this is no ordinary fugitive. He carries the third stanza of the cipher that will allow the Scottish people who donated to Bonnie Prince Charlie's cause to reclaim their donations.

While racking their brains to find a way to get Phoebe, Sinclair, and Lascelles to Meredith's estate to deliver the message, the conspirators hear Phoebe's parents approaching. Meredith grabs Phoebe and gives her a rib-cracking kiss, thus bringing about their engagement and a way for all of them to visit his estate without arousing suspicion.

This was the first book I ever read by Patricia Veryan, and the quality is such that I couldn't believe I had never heard of her before. Every single seemingly insignificant thread of plot, from Meredith's scars to a love triangle that develops between his brother, Sinclair, and a village maiden, is woven into a magnificent tapestry that keeps surprises coming until the very end. The humor had me literally giggling out loud at the library (one conversation in particular about whether or not bats possess feet comes to mind). Characters from previous books make appearances here, perfectly creating the small-world feel that the ton must have possessed. One character in particular readers will be glad to see return is Roland Otton, who is actually a friend of Meredith's and develops from an outright villain to a charming, more likeable rogue.

The development of Meredith and Phoebe's relationship, which moves from mutual irritation to attraction, friendship, and finally love, is very believable. With each new obstacle thrown in their way the reader will be rooting for them more and more, until an outstandingly romantic and satisfying conclusion. Everything about this novel is sheer perfection. Give it a try any time you want to read an intelligent, moving, and adventurous romance.

LLB: I think it's quite interesting that this book, the third in Veryan's series, is the first Jocelyn tried, and yet it stood alone so well that it not only earned DIK status, but impelled Jocelyn to read the remainder of the series. We're quite interested in this "stand-alone" concept. Our view is that it's terrific to read all of an entire series (that's one of the primary reasons for glomming, after all), but that any book sold as a single title ought to "stand alone." What do you all think?

Love Alters Not

Have you ever read a book in which the characters seemed so real and so endearing that you wanted to keep going past the end and read about their children, and maybe even their grandchildren? That's how I feel about Love Alters Not.

Dimity Cranford and her twin brothers live on their family estate, subsisting off her oldest brother Piers' salary as an ambassador's staff member as well as the occasional sale of pieces of their land. Her other brother, Peregrine, was wounded at the Battle of Culloden during the Rebellion and had to have his foot amputated, a tragedy that everyone, including Dimity, lays at the feet of one Captain Anthony Farrar, whose shameful desertion of his troops in the heat of the battle led to a disastrous retreat of those under his command.

Late one night, a servant of her distant cousin, close friend, and sometime suitor Viscount Tio Glendenning visits Dimity to let her know that his master disappeared sometime back to help a rebel fugitive and has not returned. Dimity bravely sets out to find Tio and discovers him wounded and delirious. Thinking she is Peregrine, he begs her to take a stanza of a very important cipher to an estate near Romsey. Dimity evades the troops chasing Tio and catches a stagecoach. When the stagecoach meets with an accident, Dimity, desperate because she has no indentifiction papers, accepts the others coach passenger's assumption that she is one widowed Mrs. Deene, a lady of dubious morals and terrible taste in clothes. Mrs. Deene was bringing her nephew Carlton to take possession of what she claims is the boy's rightful inheritance - the lavish estate of Captain Sir Anthony Farrar, along with his sizable fortune.

The thing I love most about this book is the slow, subtle, and believable development of the romance between Anthony and Dimity. Dimity's confusion and struggle to maintain her hatred and distrust of the man she knows to be a coward, while faced with evidence of his courage and strength of character at every turn, is very affecting. And Sir Anthony's fight to keep the woman he believes to be a fraud at arms' length while unwillingly attracted to her both physically and emotionally is also extremely well-written. Their verbal duels are witty and very amusing. For instance, the occasion when Dimity is forced to dig through the rubbish heap after her precious cipher has been accidentally disposed of:

"I come of sturdy stock," she declared, inwardly ready to sink.
His mouth quirked in a way she thought revolting. "So I-ah, see. Perhaps," he went on in all innocence, "you would wish luncheon cooked and served out here in the-ah, fresh air? You are partial to spitted roast pig, perchance."
"She began to assess the merits of cannibalism".

These light moments are balanced by the somewhat dark tone of the book. Sir Anthony is a disgraced and lonely man who lives with an aunt who holds him responsible for her son's death. He exists with the threat of a trial and death by shooting for desertion hanging over his head. In spite of all these factors weighing on him, the reader will, like Dimity, find him irresistible, for his true character constantly makes itself known through his actions. Dimity is a true-to-period heroine who is absolutely sympathetic to the modern reader. Her bravery and strength of character make her just as endearing as Sir Anthony.

Patricia Veryan is an authors' author, and in this book it's easy to see why. Her skill with plot and characterization is unparalleled. Secondary characters from other books make appearances here, but only to further the plot, never just as story flotsam. The fascinating Roland Otton makes his fourth appearance here, and his character undergoes a turning point when he makes a promise to Dimity. That promise in later books undermines his efforts to lay his hands upon the Jacobite treasure he has sought through the series.

The full story about Sir Anthony's desertion is made known only at the end, and I certainly won't give it away here. Suffice it to say that Dimity's faith in him is fully rewarded. As with all the other books in this series, Patricia Veryan's readers will once again find sheer reading pleasure.

Cherished Enemy

Cherished Enemy is a delightful books that never fails to leave me grinning happily at the end. Rosamond Albritton and Dr. Robert Victor are two characters who just seem to leap off the page and become real from the moment they are introduced.

Rosamond Albritton is normally gentle, but she finds herself hating the Jacobite rebels whom she blames for her fiance's death. While speaking of her feelings to a sympathetic captain at a party in France, she is surprised to be on the receiving end of some very angry glances from a fellow guest, Doctor Robert Victor. The good doctor by chance accompanies Rosamond and her aunt on a stormy channel crossing back to England. Rosamond injures herself and the doctor, all the while complaining that he does not treat females, tends to her wound. Rosamond develops a strong dislike for Robert, but when he escorts her to her family estate, she finds herself fighting an equally strong attraction to him. Why does he have to be such a mass of contradictions? And why is her brother Charles insisting that they are old school friends even though Robert mistook their next door neighbor for Charles?

Rosamond is a strong, passionate, and intelligent woman who is every bit a match for Robert's initially gruff and stern demeanor. Her fight to keep her feelings for the good doctor antagonistic, and her pain when she fails to do so, is so well done when I read the book, I feel that I'm experiencing her emotions right along with her. As they grow to know each other better, Robert is revealed to be a sensitive, courageous, and chivalrous gentleman who is worthy of her love in every way. His fight to live up to his definition of honor while adoring Rosamond so much that he must choose between the love and honor is deeply affecting and very well done.

The supporting characters in this book are all as well-drawn as the principles. There are two secondary romances, the more amusing of which is between Rosamond's widower father and her aunt, who wage a constant battle over the gardens at the estate. He tries to hide her shears to prevent her from trimming his prized rose bushes, and she keeps a secret stash to replace those he steals.

Roland Otton, the continuing character from the earlier books in the series returns, but here goes by Roland Fairleigh. His character transformation continues when he allows Jacobite fugitives to escape, thus keeping his promise to Dimity Cranford given in Love Alters Not, the book immediately preceding this one in the series. The interplay between Fairleigh and Victor is hilarious; if they were not on opposing sides, the feeling is that they would have been friends.

Once again, Patricia Veryan's talent for plotting absolutely shines in this book. Every single seemingly insignificant occurrence is put to good use in furthering the plot later on. There is not one unnecessary character, scene, or development. The pacing is excellent and leaves me breathlessly flipping pages every time. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

The Dedicated Villain

At long last, Roland Otton, heel/hero from the earlier books in the series gets his own book in the sixth and last book of Patricia Veryan's Golden Chronicles. I was already a little in love with Roly before reading this book; by the end of it I was head over heels.

Roland Fairleigh Mathieson, bastard grandson of the Duke of Marbury, has declared himself a "dedicated villain" on more than one occasion, and one more than one occasion he has proven the truth of his description. His sole passion is to lay his hands upon the treasure that Scottish sympathizers donated to Bonnie Prince Charlie to fund the abortive rebellion. While tracing the treasure across the English countryside, he is waylaid by a group of traveling actors who are not actors at all, but Jacobite sympathizers sent to convey the treasure to a safe location. By revealing the true name of Ligun Doone, a character from Journey to Enchantment, Roly gains their trust under false pretences and is allowed to travel with them.

Little does he know the danger that lies in doing so, not so much to his person but to his heart. Fiona Bradford, the daughter of the troop's leader, is completely unlike any woman the much sought-after Roland has ever met. She laughs off his compliments, seems unaffected by his smoldering glances, and insists on believing the best of him even when confronted with evidence of his wickedness. Charmed and defenseless against the odd combination of her mature practicality and her innocence, Roland slowly but surely topples down the slippery slope into love.

Roland's gradual transformation from rogue to hero is not really a transformation at all-that might be too hard to believe. Instead, the reader is made to see that it is a return to his true self, which several traumatic incidences in childhood forced him to bury. Roland and Fiona make a very good couple, for he is inspired by her hero-worship to live up to her expectations as best he can. He has to suffer dreadfully to gain the right to marry her and live happily-ever-after (some scenes never fail to make me cry), but once he does the reader is left with a happy certainty that his reformation is complete and that they will be truly blissful together.

Patricia Veryan's use of secondary characters and relationships is, as always, excellent in this book. Especially affecting is the romance between Thaddeus Briley (whom readers will recognize from Journey to Enchantment) and Elizabeth, Fiona's cousin. I have never heard a more heart-rending lover's complaint than when Thaddeus, who has a lisp, remarks to Roly that one cannot expect a lady to marry a gentleman who cannot even say his own name, let alone hers.

No one can reveal the nature of a Georgian man's character and mindset better than Ms. Veryan. Roly's reasoning behind some of his actions might seem a bit quixotic to the modern reader, but they are so absolutely true to period and so gallant that even if I didn't approve, I certainly sympathized. The conclusion is so satisfying that it was worth the six-book wait. The Dedicated Villain is a more than satisfying conclusion to one of the best historical series out there.

-- Jocelyn Grafton

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