Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 7 hours, 2 minutes
Lord William Bascomb is the second son, and the family estate is under his elder brother James’ care. Not that James has the money to run the estate; that has come from his wealthy wife, Isabella. James has no head or training for business and is little more than a figurehead in the household run by Isabella and a contracted manager. William had one year of college, all that they could afford, and he’s not especially satisfied being a ‘man of leisure’ as is his station. He despairs that his younger sister, Catherine, who is now 21, will become an old maid, and laments his youngest sibling buying a commission in the Navy. For himself, William cannot hope to marry into wealth, like James did, as he truly does not want to; he is not attracted to women and does all he can to hide his perverse attractions, avoiding censure, or worse.
The adjoining estate to Rivington is Albon Manor and the new heir, Reginald Abernathy, is due to arrive from America at any time. It’s been 7 months since the previous Lord was killed in a carriage accident, along with his son and heir. All the folks of Highley, England, are on tenterhooks awaiting the wealthy new lord. Reginald and his sister, Susan, are both of a prime age and aspect, and immediately William’s Aunt Harriet is forecasting a double wedding of Catherine to Reginald, and William to Susan. It’s a conundrum, especially as William is indecently attracted to Reginald, who takes him under his wing to learn the business of running a big estate. It is unconventional for a Lord to see to his own affairs, but if Reginald will, then so will William.
It seems that Rivington’s fortunes have decreased in the previous generations, and William is hoping to assist James’ land manager to revive their earnings. If he can earn a living, he might be able to provide a proper dowry to get Elizabeth married off suitably. Not to Reginald, though. Reginald, well, William wishes to keep the tall, generous, nobleman all for himself and is astounded that Reginald quite returns his sentiments. Despite William’s need for discretion, he could not bear his dear sister marrying a man who would play her false with her own brother.
I chose this story, set in 1820s in rural England, for Past/Future Challenge Week. Usually, I read Regency-era stories that are mostly set in Britain, with British characters. This story had an unique twist with the advent of American characters suddenly promoted into the aristocracy. Reginald and Susan were able to reflect a different viewpoint than the general status quo—and their independent ideas were well-suited to both William and Catherine’s futures. America is no longer a colony, and has defeated the British twice now, but is still a land of slaveholders—though Reginald claims to have had no slaves on his Virginia horse farm. He’s also a bit jumbled on the entailment of Albon Manor to him, a man who’d never seen it before, rather than the grieving dowager and her remaining children. There are some social issues at play, and the story glosses over them in a way that makes Reginald seem like an honorable man who would live his life according to his truth, by means of careful selection of discreet and trustworthy servants.
As an audiobook, I was really able to hear the deep affection Reginald expresses to his Lord William, and how excited he is to introduce William to the pleasures of love with another man. William is a grown man, but having been raised in the country, he’s entirely naïve despite owning his attraction to men. I appreciated the pacing of the audiobook, because William’s mooning, pining, and jealousy took up a LOT of the prose, it seemed. As a counterpoint, Reginald is savvy, wise, and crafty, devising innocent experiences to hide their illicit trysts and employing servants who would never betray a master. The wink-wink nature of Reginald’s experience was clearly portrayed by narrator, Joel Leslie, as was William’s innocent befuddlement.
There are some intrigues causing heartache for both William and Catherine—and it’s not only the matchmaking. No, Isabella believes that the Abernathys keep spurious company and is adamant that the relations between Rivington and Albon Manor are severed. It is William who saves the day here, finally gaining the agency he’d lacked at the beginning of the story. The book has a distinctly happy ending, with society satisfied, propriety maintained, and love beyond measure acknowledged, if only privately. The final resolution was a bit of a stretch for me, but I’m not going to belabor the coincidences that gave me pause. It all gets revealed to William so late in the story that the reader doesn’t have time to get too up in arms over it.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Past/Future Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of two great book bundles from Carina Press (you can see the details and full event prize list here)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Past/Future Week here.