November 2012, European Historical Romance (1810s England)
Carina Press, $5.99, 218 pages
Note: This book is available at Amazon and other eBook retailers.
With all the dukes populating the Romancelandia district of Regency England, I am always predisposed to like any Regency romance that features ordinary people. Susanna Fraser’s An Infamous Marriage, is about a recently knighted army general and his wife, a former poor relation to no one noble at all, and it proved a refreshing and interesting read.
The novel starts in early 1815, with General Sir John Armstrong returning from Canada to England after a five-year absence. Jack is not eager to get home, as once there he must deal with the wife he has only known for a week. His marriage was one of convenience, following the deathbed request of his best friend Giles, who didn’t want to leave his new bride Elizabeth penniless and unprotected. Elizabeth is horrified at the idea of marrying a virtual stranger so soon after losing her beloved husband, but her prospects otherwise are dire, and Jack feels bound to his word. In addition needs a manager to look after his estate and care for his mother, who suffers from dementia, while he returns to Canada. So they marry, but hardly get to know each other before Jack leaves.
The novel is divided into three parts: In the first part, we see Jack approaching his home, and in flashbacks both from Jack’s and Elizabeth’s points-of-view, we see the events that led to their marriage and how their relationship developed after that. In the second part, Jack arrives in Yorkshire, and Elizabeth and he must deal with their relationship. In the third part, the outside world makes claims on them (history buffs among you will probably guess in which manner), and any understanding they have reached so far is tested.
I liked the way that the characters were grounded. Jack is an army man first and foremost, and the worry that he may never see action again (he was promoted on a battlefield, but was an invalid for a long time after that) dominates his thoughts to a great amount. Elizabeth is the daughter of a failed banker who committed suicide, and accordingly her social position and her self-confidence are damaged. Both enter the marriage for sensible reasons, but find it very difficult at times to deal with the emotional impact. And when they make mistakes, these are not without consequences.
For the first two thirds, the novel is almost wholly character-driven. Both protagonists are flawed people – nothing particularly villainous, but they go wrong in little but damaging ways, and must live with the results. A trained romance reader, I was ready to forgive Jack’s big mistake – Consider the circumstances! Consider the period! – quicker that Elizabeth did, while her flaw is one that is very common in real life, but one that romance heroines almost always raise above without any apparent effort. It took me a moment or two to sympathize with the strength of Elizabeth’s emotions, but then I found her problems so logical considering where she comes from, that I bought it for the rest of the book.
In the last third of the book, much of what happens is suddenly driven by outside events, and while this is historically convincing, the emotional depth was no longer quite as pronounced as before. Still, I liked the setting in this part very much indeed, and I also enjoyed the minor characters that play a larger role in that part.
I enjoyed An Infamous Marriage very much, and Susanna Fraser remains on my autobuy list. As the novel’s structure did not quite please me, it cannot be a DIK, but I still recommend it strongly to those who like a Regency romance that is out of the common way.
-- Rike Horstmann
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