The Diamonds of Wellbourne Manor
The tagline for this anthology is “Three Sisters … Three House Parties … By Three Friends.” Catchy. Don’t suppose, though, that the publishers intended three very different grades as well.
Justine and the Noble Viscount
- by Diane Gaston
Grade : D- Sensuality : Warm
This is how the story of Justine and the Noble Viscount by Diane Gaston goes: After years of scandalously illicit companionship, the Duke and Duchess of Manning have finally legitimized their union only to die on their honeymoon, leaving behind an assortment of legitimate and illegitimate children, including three sisters and the titular diamonds. The Duchess of Manning's legitimate son, Viscount Gerald Brenner, charged with the delivering the news to the various progeny of his mother and her lover, is not looking forward to his additional duty as the new guardian to the younger sisters, Annalise and Charlotte. Of course, while he stays with them (House Party #1) he falls in love with the half-sister Justine (Sister #1, geddit?) and she with him, and after some distressingly perfunctory conflict they marry and live happily-ever-after.
Really, the prose is surprisingly amateurish, coming from an author of Ms. Gaston’s experience. There is also little consistency in plot and even littler depth of character, and I can't be bothered to figure out the former or care about the latter. Clearly, the author couldn't be bothered either.
Annalise and the Scandalous Rake
- by Deb Marlowe
Grade : B- Sensuality : Warm
The story of Sister and House Party #2, Deb Marlowe's Annalise and the Scandalous Rake takes place a year after the first and, despite a title that evokes nothing of the plot, is the best of the lot. Annalise is a passionate but socially aloof artist, Ned Milford is a society gentleman who moonlights as Prattle, a scathing caricaturist of the ton. They meet, fall in love, have a massive fallout, clear the air and get married – all par for the course, but the journey is enjoyable and the characters sympathetic. All in all, this is a solid, if unimaginative read.
Charlotte and the Wicked Lord
- by Amanda McCabe
Grade : C Sensuality : Warm
What is with these dumbo titles? Charlotte and the Wicked Lord by Amanda McCabe is the youngest sister's story of unrequited love requited, between herself and her brother's friend (who is a lord but is not wicked – get it straight, bud). The prose is average, the story is average, there are setups for no less than two future books, and it is altogether a very average tale.
If I had been the editor to whom the authors had pitched this idea, I probably would have reacted as enthusiastically as their editor must have done. To do the authors justice, all three attempted to address the psychological consequences on the children of the Duke & Duchess’s unorthodox union and two of the authors tried to maintain character consistency between stories, with one managing to craft a satisfactory story. But in the reader’s defence, for a 288-page anthology those are pretty poor statistics. Or maybe I'm being picky; maybe they're just plain average. Like this book.