A Defense of Honor
It’s unfortunate when a favorite author pens a novel you don’t love but it is also a reality of life that such an event typically occurs at least once in a writer’s career. Hopefully, A Defense of Honor will be the aberration in Ms. Hunter’s lexicon since her previous novels have brought me such joy.
Graham, Viscount Wharton, is bored by the monotony of life as a member of the ton, and is at yet another dull event when he finds himself intrigued by a colorfully clad young woman he notices trying to hide behind the potted palms. Graham and the mystery woman exchange a few witticisms before he is waylaid by a friend and the woman makes good her escape – but he is not to be easily put off, and eventually locates her in the midst of an altercation with an older man.
Bumping into the father she hasn’t seen for thirteen years is the last thing Katherine – Kit – FitzGilbert had expected when she ducked into a familiar ballroom in order to avoid pursuit by two thugs on the London streets. If it hadn’t been for Lord Wharton, she’d have been in and out quickly – and even more infuriatingly, the man overhears her confrontation with her father. When she does finally manage to make her way to the door, her pursuers are waiting for her – and this time, Wharton’s presence is a help, as it enables Kit to get away – but not before Graham demands to know her name, which she divulges before heading off into the night.
Graham spends a restless night wondering how to trace his lady in green; fortunately, fate intervenes the next day. Joining his friend Oliver on a quest for the man’s missing sister leads them to an unusual shop in the town of Marlborough, a garrulous young boy who speaks of hidden treasure and a path through the woods which leads Graham straight to Kit.
The majority of historical romances today star characters who throw convention to the wind and behave completely outside the norms of Regency society. That certainly happens here where we see Graham travel about England without a valet, and Kit galivant across the country without any sort of escort, male or female. I could probably have accepted that but much of the plot hinges on a case of mistaken identity which results in a pregnancy. It’s a stretch to believe that one person – other than a twin- would sound, look and behave sufficiently like another to be able to pass intimate scrutiny, and I found it unbelievable that a gently bred young lady would be comfortable enough with a strange man to allow him the intimacies necessary to impregnate her. I would have believed a seduction, I might have accepted one of the many ridiculous scenarios that abound in our current historical market for a woman wanting to lose her virginity, but the circumstances described here make no sense. I was also confused as to why, given the couple was observed through a window, no societal pressure was applied to the man to behave honorably and propose marriage. Typically, at least some censure would be attached to his name for not doing so, but the author makes it sound as though only the woman was punished in this case. Adding to the nonsensical nature of the tale is the blackmail scheme Kit is involved in. Her ability to obtain the necessary material is never explained, and such a situation called for an explanation.
Another problem I had was the uniquely American tone of the story. I’ve read variants of this book (and seen it in movies) numerous times. Typically, it is set somewhere like Kansas or Missouri during the late 19th/early 20th century. The children in the story are orphans and the offspring of unwed mothers that Kit and her sisters/friends allow to live with them on their farm. Graham (a rich cowboy) would be looking for his friend’s sister, just like in this story, and exactly as happens in this book, he would come upon the beautiful Kit on a rainy day, stable his horse in her barn, get a pallet in the kitchen because he is trapped there by the bridge back to town being flooded, insist on stripping out of his coat, jacket, and cravat so he can dry them out in the warmth of the kitchen fire and receive a hot bowl of stew for dinner. Like I’ve said, this is a very familiar tale in American romances. That scene in the kitchen is so stock I could picture it with complete clarity: the pot-bellied stove, the kitchen fireplace, large wood table and the handsome man who virtually oozes masculinity from every pore removing his riding accoutrements and placing them across various chairs and hooks near the fire. The flustered blonde dishing up the grub would skedaddle out of there, confused by her own sexual interest in the inappropriately garbed stranger. He would give her retreating back the same smirk Graham gives Kit.
Telling old stories in new settings can breathe fresh life into them and make the reader see them in whole new ways. In this case, however, not enough has been changed to make that possible. Instead, we are treated to the unlikely event of members of the British aristocracy behaving with shocking similarity to the stereotypical characters of an American Western. The setting itself – the large country house, small town with what sounded very like a general mercantile, and the women caring for the children without a maid or other servants – is very typical of the genre. While it is true that under the surface human societies bear strong resemblances to each other, those surface items can make a big difference. In this case, the egalitarian society and small-town atmosphere sounded too little like English country life for my comfort.
There are good aspects to the tale. Kit and her friends are delightful people with simple, homespun faith. They learn valuable spiritual lessons as our story progresses, and while their faith is far more American in nature than European, it suited the characters as they were presented. Graham and Kit spend some quality time together, setting a solid foundation for their HEA. I liked that Graham’s background included some rough and tumble traveling which allowed him to feel more at ease with the unusual; it helped to make sense of his easy acceptance of Kit’s situation. He isn’t an evangelical Christian when he meets the ladies but exposure to their ways helps him determine that faith belongs in every day, not just Sunday. It would all have been very charming had they been the denizens of robber baron ballrooms and farms in the rolling hills of the American countryside.
They weren’t though, and aside from tossing about the occasional title and mention of an estate, nothing about them suggested they were British, much less English Aristocracy. That leaves this very American story of a Crisis Pregnancy Center being set in an era and location in which it doesn’t belong. While A Defense of Honor is peopled with charming characters and contains delightful prose, the anachronisms in setting and plot make it a story I would recommend only to evangelicals who love books that confirm their ideal of right to life.