Finding the first quarter of this book really enjoyable, I settled myself comfortably in my chair for a good read. Unfortunately, the initial promise of the book
fades; by the end, I felt quite differently toward it. The overall idea is sound
- that after one night's recklessness with a known heartless rake, the widow Cassandra, Lady Colchester, finds herself pregnant. Thrown out by her relatives, she is forced to work in a hat shop to make ends meet, eventually giving birth to daughter June. When Cassandra realizes that she is dying of consumption, she knows she has to prepare June for her future and so takes her to her father, Lord Vincent Sinclair, second son of a duke.
Everyone knows that Vincent is a womanizing rake whose affections are never engaged. Now Vincent is facing up to family expectations and has a fiancée in tow. But when he discovers he is a father, he finds he can't quite ignore Cassandra and June and ends up making a contract to look after them both, despite the fact
that he could have ignored them (particularly when they discover Cassandra isn't dying).
Up to this point, the book is great. Then it falls into a "will they/won't they rekindle their physical relationship?" section interspersed with the more enjoyable - and character-building - conversations between the
protagonists. The underlying problem is that Vincent can't bring himself to love anyone (not a particularly novel theme in this kind of book!) and that he's engaged anyway. Cassandra doesn't want to be anyone's mistress but might find there is more honor and satisfaction in that than she initially thought. Can they find happiness? Can all the problems besetting Vincent be overcome?
The characterization in this book is variable. Vincent is fairly believable, as
is Cassandra, but many of the other characters seem fake. The heartless fiancée is
too common in this kind of book. The mad father, the long-held grudges between brothers - much of this
is familiar and not handled especially well in this story. There are some dreadful howlers in terms of accuracy with food - people have biscuits with butter for breakfast, someone is offered cookies, that sort of thing. MacLean's historicity is mostly seamless apart from these dodgy slips into American food, but they really annoyed me and could have easily been checked. She doesn't give much detail on clothing or place, but the story is set at the end of the 19th century when trains are present - another Americanism
refers to the 'train station' (the correct British rendition is 'railway station').
The writing was fairly fluid and the pacing is good, but the central love story didn't convince me.
Neither does the reformation of Vincent to a monogamous man after years of raking.
I wasn't entirely sure how the more-believable Cassandra squared her behavior with her previous strongly-held beliefs.
Those who devour this genre of writing will enjoy The Mistress Diaries, but there are many better examples out there.