I love to discover new authors to gush about. It’s just so hard to find them.
Yes, I can be as fastidious as Mr. Darcy when it comes to reading new works. He enjoyed reading too—and has an extensive library at Pemberley—the work of many generations! I don’t make 10,000 pounds a year off this blog, so I am quite reserved with my purchasing. In the instance of Edenbrooke, a debut novel by Juliann Donaldson, all the features worked to motivate me to pay top dollar for a digital copy for my Nook: Regency-era setting, snappy repartee, clean romance, illusions of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, swoon-worthy hero, flawed heroine, and a boatload of beaming reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Donaldson must have gotten it right to have so many raving about her first novel. I had to find out.
After the tragic death of her mother, our heroine Marianne Daventry has been sent to Bath to live with her elderly grandmother, while her beautiful and refined twin sister Cecily lives in London with her more fashionable cousins. She is rather bored with Bath and the attentions of one odious Mr. Whittles, who like Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice shares an absence of natural gifts that had not been improved by education or society. When an invitation arrives from her sister to stay at Edenbrooke, a country estate in Kent owned by a wealthy and titled man who Cecily hopes to marry, Marianne is ecstatic at the possibility of being in the country again. Her grandmother consents to the plan on one condition: she must change her wild ways and behave like an elegant lady. This is a challenge to Marianne who prefers twirling under the open sky to just about any activity. This defines Marianne’s personality perfectly. She is a bit of wild child that does not fit into society’s expectations of proper conduct befitting a young lady. Her grandmother also reveals she is disinheriting her heir, the Nefarious Nephew Mr. Kellet, and is instead bequeathing her fortune to Marianne. She is even more surprised that she must keep it a secret.
Off to Edenbrooke Marianne and her maid Betsy go by carriage on their big adventure. We were worried for her safety, and for good reason. Ladies in this era, young or old, did not travel without a proper male escort and we sensed trouble with every jolt of the carriage. It appeared like clockwork in the form of a masked highwayman welding a big gun who proceeds to shoot the carriage driver and steal her mother’s locket before Marianne retaliates and shoots him. This is all highly amusing in a comedic/tragic sort of way. Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey would be thrilled to read this bit of drama made famous in her favorite Gothic-fiction novels. Our heroine in the making also faces other challenges at a local Inn where she seeks assistance and meets a disenchanted young gentleman who does not act like a gentleman.
“I blushed at his disdainful look, and then my nerves, strung so taut with everything that had happened, suddenly snapped. How dare he speak to me like that? Anger flared hard in my chest and pride reared its head. In that moment I felt as strong and haughty as Grandmother.
I lifted my chin and said, “Pardon me. I was under the impression that I was addressing a gentleman. I can see that I was, as you said, mistaken.”” (25)
There are many mistaken assumptions and misunderstandings throughout the novel. Amusingly, it makes for great comedic moments full of witty dialogue and hijinx. For example, after falling in a river, twice, Marianne meets the man who was so rude to her at the Inn and the banter continues. He is a Wyndham and they soon spend a week together riding the estate and talking in the great library. There are many other page-turning episodes which I will not reveal further, but readers can look forward to a ball (Yes, what Regency-era novel would be complete without one?), an abduction (Shades of Georgette Heyer), and plenty of clean romance (That Jane Austen would approve of).
Ms. Donaldson shows great promise. As a debut novel, Edenbrooke was delightful and diverting. She particularly excelled at the witty repartee between the main characters and developed the second string beautifully to support the narrative. My disappointment and there are only a few niggling objections, is with the length of the novel at 222 pages. It was almost as if one hundred pages were lopped and cropped out for some reason that we shall never know of. Once I was at Edenbrooke, I craved more narrative and felt we were short-sheeted. In addition, even though her publisher gave her a stunning cover, I think they should have made pecuniary adjustments because of the length of the novel.
All in all, Edenbrooke was an agreeable excursion into the country and into my heart. I look forward to following this author as she develops into an even more accomplished and elegant writer.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson
Shadow Mountain (2012)
Trade paperback (222) pages
AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND | GOODREADS
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Cover image courtesy of Shadow Mountain © 2012; Text Reviewers Name © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com