A Most Noble Heir
Most romances follow a tried-and-true pattern — thrust the hero and heroine together under circumstances which place them in conflict and show how they resolve their differences to arrive at happily-ever-after. In A Most Noble Heir, the author wrenches the hero and heroine apart near the beginning and invites the reader on a journey as the couple’s love struggles to bridge a chasm of social and physical distance. Add a villain who has his own emotional issues to resolve, and the reader gets an intriguing story of three parallel, yet intersecting lives transformed through the power of love.
For years, Nolan Price has worked as a stable boy at Stainsby Hall. His mother died in childbirth and he was raised by his Aunt Elizabeth; he doesn’t know who his father is, and the subject is rarely discussed. Despite his devotion to his aunt, Nolan harbors a deep need to identify his other parent and discover that side of his heritage. Since Elizabeth is ill, Nolan delays any dreams of searching for the man and puts his effort into saving enough money to buy a small farm. By the end of the month, he will have enough to purchase the land, marry his beloved Hannah, and provide a secure home for the two women he loves most.
Until the age of thirteen, Hannah Burnham was blessed with a carefree childhood. Then her father’s death and the desperate financial situation that ensued forced her mother to ship Hannah off to kitchen service at Stainsby Hall. She’s grown into a young woman who carries a sense of being a ‘throw away’. When she learns that her younger sister Molly will essentially be sold into marriage to an older, disagreeable neighbor so that her stepfather may gain influence and acreage, she clings to the hopeful prospect of marriage to Nolan. Her expectation is that a move to his farm will allow her sister to live with them and secure her own future with a loving, steadfast man at her side.
Edward Fairchild, Earl of Stainsby, has been forced to face a harsh reality. His son-in-law, a third cousin who also happens to be his heir, is spoiled, incompetent, and unreliable, and Edward despairs for the future of his lands and heritage. He cloaks his bitter disappointment under a guise of demanding arrogance.
Life for Nolan, Hannah, and the Earl changes in an instant when Elizabeth, on her deathbed, confesses that Nolan’s father is, in fact, the Earl of Stainsby. Nolan’s reaction is a mix of pleasure at knowing his father’s identity, a sense betrayal for not being told the truth sooner and disgust that his sire is a man whose actions he cannot respect. After the first shock, the Earl is ecstatic. He confirms the legality of his marriage to Nolan’s birth mother and gathers the proof of Nolan’s legitimacy. His next goal is to train Nolan as his heir.
Fearing the Earl’s interference, Nolan plans a clandestine wedding. He and Hannah enjoy a brief, ecstatic honeymoon but when their wedding journey leads them to Hannah’s mother, they receive a nasty shock. The Earl has beat them there, and using a mixture of threats and cajoling, he makes a bargain with Nolan: Hannah and her sister Molly can join them at Stainsby Hall if Nolan will keep his marriage a secret. Otherwise, Molly will be forced to remain behind and likely married off before Nolan has the resources to help her. Nolan reluctantly agrees, not realizing the many problems this will soon cause.
The storyline from this point follows the intertwined paths of these three people as they navigate their new situations. Nolan walks the rough course of pleasing his father while remaining steadfast in his love for Hannah, as well as carving out his own best direction based on a strong moral compass. That heading is made increasingly more difficult by the Earl’s desire to destroy and set aside their marriage. He forces burdensome conditions upon them, causing a misunderstanding that has Hannah and Molly fleeing to obscure relatives. Given the social and physical distance that now separates her from Nolan, Hannah struggles to maintain her devotion with only Nolan’s brief visits, gossip, and her faith to sustain her. All the while, Edward works with single-minded focus to enfold Nolan into the Earldom’s influence but is unprepared for Nolan’s resistance and honorable character.
The plot is classic and straightforward. True love must conquer distance, circumstance and active interference. Most of the story details Nolan and Hannah’s struggle to be together while Nolan works to integrate into his new family and clashes with his father as he wades into society’s waters. The author takes time to show how a childhood grounding in honor and love leads to living by virtuous principles which can withstand life’s turmoil. Nolan’s choices give the reader encouragement to use one’s skills and intelligence to find an alternative path to and positive aspects of life’s unforeseen twists. Hannah’s dilemma is portrayed with sympathy for she has the least power in this unexpected triangle but must find the courage and faith to sustain her love even when separated from her beloved.
Fortunately, while Nolan and Hannah are forced to spend a lot of their time apart, the focus of the tale is on how much they love each other and want to be together. Their love story and its resolution are the primary focus of the text, in spite of the many things happening around them.
Ms. Mason uses themes appropriate for the inspirational romance genre. Nolan provides a fine example of relying on solid morals to resist the lure of an elegant, shallow lifestyle while holding on to the vision of life based on love and mutual respect. Contemporary American Evangelical Christian virtues are displayed through Nolan’s interactions with the Earl and with Hannah, Hannah’s discussions with her mentor, and advice passed to Nolan and Hannah from other secondary characters.
The sensuality rating on this title is subtle since we move a few steps beyond kisses. Hannah and Nolan are married a third of the way into the novel and Nolan’s enjoyment of the physical aspect of the marital relationship is made evident in the text. While the author never describes their encounters in detail, the allusion made to them is stronger than it is in many Inspirational novels and thus bears mentioning.
The story’s pace is more measured than what I usually read, but within a few pages, I found the author’s rhythm and this, along with the smooth writing style, made the book easy to read. I was never certain how the events would untangle so that all three people would be rewarded with a happy future, which kept me turning pages. If you like a well-told story about people adapting and thriving under trying circumstances, paired with an engaging romance, pick up a copy of A Most Noble Heir for a most enjoyable read.