From the desk of Katie Patchell:
In the Regency era, the only acceptable musical instruments a woman was allowed to play were the harp and piano, and if she played any other, particularly a violin, she would be looked down upon in society and considered unfeminine. But in Camille Elliot’s recent debut novel, Prelude for a Lord, the heroine defies conventions and plays this beautiful but forbidden instrument, which stirs her heart, makes her forget her past and society’s censure, and ultimately, entangles her in a web of romance, mystery, and danger.
At the age of twenty-eight, Lady Alethea Sutherton has accepted her fate: that she will never marry, and will always be looked down upon by society as an eccentric. With her height, striking (rather than classical) features, and her unconventional country ways, she is whispered about by the Bath gossips, but it is Alethea’s consuming passion for music and her skill at the extremely unfeminine instrument—the violin—that has her scorned by polite society.
When she meets Lord Bayard Dommick, the man who eleven years ago convinced her to pursue her violin playing with his offensive statement that it was “unfeminine for a woman to play the instrument” (53), Alethea plans to ignore him at all costs. But when Bayard offers to help her discover why her old violin has suddenly become the obsession of two shady individuals, Alethea has no choice but to accept this potential ally. As she spends more time with him and his two best friends, the remaining members of the famous string Quartet, Alethea discovers that Bayard is far from insufferable, and instead, one of the only people to understand her love of music and the violin.
When their search for answers as to the origin of her violin results in a dangerous pursuer and threats to their families, can they protect those they love and in the end, be able to solve the mystery of the violin? And will Alethea and Bayard be able to put aside society’s view of musicians—female and male—to play their own soaring music together in a new Quartet?
I loved Prelude for a Lord’s premise of a female violinist going against the societal norms in the Regency period in order to play a beautiful instrument. I’ve never come across this topic in Regency fiction, and I’ve never even considered the fact that some instruments were seen as inappropriate for either men or women to play (in the eyes of some, or most, of society). I also loved the three-dimensional and wildly entertaining supporting characters, specifically Alethea’s aunt, Ebena, Bayard’s sister, Clare, Ian and Raven (the remaining members of the Quartet), and the precocious Margaret. Something else that I loved about this novel was the picturesque and beautiful descriptions of music. The characters’ (and author’s) love of music was clearly evident and effectively translated to the reader.
Reading Prelude for a Lord gave me the feeling of sitting in an opera, seeing all the bright costumes, hearing the drastic rise and fall of the full-voiced dramatic soprano, and watching the sometimes shocking and unbelievable, but always fascinating, dramatic storyline unfold. This is the theatrical feel of the novel—it isn’t in the style, language, or customs of Jane Austen, and the drama and mixing of genres, (described by one Amazon reviewer as a blend of Jane Austen and Castle) made this novel less of a comedy of manners and more of a combination of a Regency setting with a modern perspective, rules (societal and courtship), and dialogue (including words like brat, ugly mug, and greedy guts). But while there were parts that were not period, those that were included were interesting, and shed light specifically on society’s view during the Regency in regards to female musicians.
Prelude for a Lord is full of action and drama, including (some small spoilers): kidnapping, someone sold (literally) into marriage, Bedlam, a man who killed his first wife, a marriage of convenience, larger-than-life villains, and two main characters with secret traumas in their pasts. As a lover of the ‘comedy of manners’ style of Regency fiction (with more under-the-surface elements than dramatic action), at times I grew tired of all the melodrama that tended to overshadow the characters and romance, which I admit, lessened my overall enjoyment of the novel. But this can (and should) be chalked up to personal preference, and should not dissuade any future reader from reading and enjoying this novel.
Overall, Prelude for a Lord was a light and entertaining read, and while the romance and story were not always true to the time period, this was still a dramatic, exciting story with a touching romance that will interest music-lovers and mystery-readers alike.
3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Prelude for a Lord: A Novel, by Camille Elliot
Trade paperback & eBook (352) pages
Cover image courtesy of Zondervan © 2014; text Katie Patchell © 2014, Austenprose.com
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