How to avoid a repellant fiancé in 1865

Like many others I was surprised to find that the Duchess of York had turned into a novelist ~ and a very good one at that. So what makes this book so readable? Why is it hard to put down?

One answer has to do with how well the author immerses the reader in the fictive world.

In this case we have the 1860s and 1870s brought to life on the pages of this novel. The opening was suitably gripping and intriguing. A debutante Miss is about to have her engagement announced to a Scottish Earl, when___her feet carry her away from the ball!

As the ball has the cream of London and Scottish Society, as it had expressly been planned to celebrate this engagement, and as running away is not something a nicely-brought-up young lady does, the fact that Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott disappears causes plenty to tongues to wag. 

And what an escape it is! Lady Margaret steps out of her father’s garden gate and finds herself in the midst of unimaginable squalor. Even though she is near Montagu House, her father’s London estate, she manages to get lost. It is after midnight, but even in bright sunlight 1870s London was hidden by a thick pall of unhealthy air, making it difficult to see. 

Montagu House, London, the garden (river) frontage

But we cannot lose our protagonist too early, so even though Margaret is comfortably chatting with a fellow Scot in this un-salubrious part of London, she is hauled away by a family friend, concerned about her reputation and her dangerous naïveté. Thank heavens, her bully of a father never learned all the particulars of this escapade!

And so Ms. Ferguson (it seems strange to use her court title of Her Grace, so I will refer to her either as Ms Ferguson or Sarah) brings this world to life with plenty of telling details. Not only do we try to peer through the smog of 1870s London, but we inhale the filthy stink of the River Thames, and the odor of unwashed bodies. As most romances set in 19th-century London do not mention the unmentionable, Sarah’s debut novel provides a refreshing take on what it was actually like to live at that time.

My only real complaint is with the audio version of this novel, in which the narrator has the strange habit of letting her voice soften as she dramatically slows it down. This is followed by a pause and then a sound that seems to be a sniff, before we pick up the narration at its usual speed. 

I have never heard a narrator do that before, and I have to say I didn’t like it at all. It was very distracting and pulled me out of the novel, something you never want to do. Five Stars. 

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