I picked this one up on impulse right after I won my copy of Victoria. I saw that it was the same author but a different time period so I thought it would be a nice way to get a sense of Goodwin’s work.
Our story follows Cora Cash, who is the richest heiress in America during the late 1800s. She’s beautiful and rich and fully aware of it. Her mother has raised her to be perfect, and Cora is a bit frustrated with the constraints of being under her mother’s thumb. She hopes to convince her childhood friend, Teddy, to marry her. But he is afraid of her wealth, and passes up the opportunity while she goes to Europe for an extended period.
While she is away, her mother is determined to place her in the company of as many eligible titled men as possible. One day when out riding her horse in the forest, Cora hits her head and is rescued by Ivo Maltravers. Turns out he is the Duke of Wareham as well. As one might expect, romance develops quickly between them and they get engaged and married. Even though her mother is pleased to have gotten her way, Cora is pleased to be marrying for love. However, as their marriage approaches and the first years pass, her new husband is sometimes distant and cruel to Cora. She is doing her best to deal with the social norms of England, but she finds herself relying on the wrong advice, putting her marriage in danger.
In general, I enjoyed this book. It was light and fluffy and a nice palette cleanser after reading the Alamo book. On the back it recommends for fans of Downton Abbey, and while I see why someone who loved the Upstairs/Downstairs would like this. In my opinion, Downton Abbey is in a class all it’s own. So I wasn’t necessarily disappointed in this book.
The characters were definitely not as interesting as those in Downton Abbey, so I’m glad I wasn’t hoping for that. As the main character, Cora was supposed to be the most interesting but I found I liked the descriptions of her clothing and accessories more than I liked her. The costuming is usually one of my favorite parts of historical pieces, so I enjoyed that about this very much.
Cora is quite selfish and seems to want more than she can have. I found it ironic later on that she was so frustrated with her husband, when in reality they were quite similar. I enjoyed Ivo’s character more though because there was so much mystery surrounding him. I really admired Bertha’s commitment to her position, but also wanted her to fulfill her dreams. Teddy was a disappointing character for me. He didn’t have much appeal other than being ‘safe.’ Cora has known him her whole life, he’s American and she has no doubt of his feelings. He isn’t described much in a way that makes him seem like a worthy opponent to the Duke.
I typically enjoy these kinds of period pieces, but I was a little let down by this one. I would have maybe enjoyed learning alongside Cora about the rules she must try to follow. Instead, I felt just as frustrated as her because I couldn’t understand why everyone thought she had messed up. I would have enjoyed more character development, particularly among the servants. There was so little about all of them except Bertha, I don’t think they should have even been included.
The real climax of this book happened a little too late for me. You find out Ivo’s true nature, intentions and indiscretions and Cora makes several life-altering decisions in about 75 pages. I just think there are things that could have been fleshed out more since this book was nearly 500 pages.
Will I be keeping this book? Do I anticipate rereading? I am holding onto it for now. It looks very nice on my shelf next to the copy of Victoria I won. It’s not the sort of book I think I will reach for often, but if I want a nice taste of Edwardian England without it being too serious, this would do the trick.