Sunday, August 11, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: How to Cross a Marquess by Jane Ashford

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence my review.

I’ve been following Jane Ashford’s Regency Romance series: The Way to a Lord’s Heart. In these novels, an older gentleman, the Earl of Macklin, uses his experience with grief to aid younger lords who have lost someone dear to them.

In How to Cross a Marquess, Macklin’s current project is Roger Berwick, Marquess of Chatton, whose wife died from a fever a year earlier. (The story behind the fever is complicated and drives the plot.)

Roger returns to his ancestral home in Northumberland where he meets up with his old neighbor, Fenella Fairclough. They had been children together. He was a few years older, a mischievous boy much admired by the others in their gang. Fenella was a smitten, shy, insecure girl. Their lands abutted and their fathers argued over boundaries until they hit upon the idea of marrying their children to each other. Roger had rebelled at the thought; he rebelled against any project of his father’s. Fenella, humiliated, also refused – by running away to her grandmother in Scotland. There she grew into a mature, self-confident, and beautiful young woman.

Roger went to London where he met and married a young beauty (Arabella) whom he accidentally compromised, at least according to the girl’s mother. The mother arranged the whole embarrassing charade in order to see her beloved daughter make a grand match.  The marriage was a disaster. When Arabella died after an ill-advised outing in the rain (one that Fenella had tried to talk her out of but could not), Roger was more relieved than saddened, which led to a tremendous burden of guilt. In response to the guilt, he tended to blame everyone involved, including Fenella.

When Roger returns, he and Fenella are frequently thrown together by circumstance. Macklin arrives to see how Roger is faring and watches with benign amusement as the two find their way to one another. Macklin takes a more passive role in this romance than he has in previous stories, because the two don’t need much help. They just need time and proximity.

The plot is well-constructed and the characters pleasant. Fenella is a particularly level-headed heroine. It isn’t my favorite story of the series but Ashford’s Romances continues to entertain.