At Your Pleasure
Lovers separated by treachery, war, conflicting ideals, and the like are among my least favorite plot devices because they’re so often accompanied by other big irritants. How many times have you sighed with annoyance because the hero refuses to believe he’s been deceived? How ofen have you read angrily while the heroine clings to a dangerous and mistaken ideal? An inability to communicate is almost always the recurring theme. At Your Pleasure is another tale of lovers separated – by politics and religion this time – but here the plot works beautifully, making the latest Meredith Duran a real treat.
When George of Hanover was crowned king of England, instead of James Stuart, many of Britain’s Tories joined the Jacobite cause, including the family of our heroine, Nora, the Marchioness of Towe. Nora is holding the fort for her brother, David, who is in France plotting against King George, along with Nora’s father. So the widowed Nora is essentially alone when a party of the king’s men arrive, take over the manor, and settle in to wait for David to return from France so they can arrest him for treason. That barrels of smuggled gunpowder are stored in the cellars makes her situation perilous. That the leader of the group of king’s men is her long lost past love makes her situation almost too bitter to endure.
Adrian, Earl of Rivenham, was powerless in the past, and it cost him the love of his life and his dignity. Having worked tirelessly to gain power, he’s now one of the most influential men at court, doing anything required to keep his standing, his title, and his lands free from political machinations. He can’t afford to allow Nora to defy him, nor show her brother any mercy, regardless of how much he once loved Nora. But events and other ambitious people conspire against Adrian and Nora, making them wary allies, and causing them to discuss the treachery that separated them so long ago. When Adrian finds himself falling in love with Nora again, he faces a huge dilemma. He converted to the Church of England in order to prevent the predation of his Catholic family – how can he align himself with a woman with treasonous relatives?
Do we all know by now what to expect from Ms. Duran? Or do I need to go on and on about pacing, dialogue, descriptives, etc and the excellence thereof? All that’s great, and the story flows. The historical accuracy also seemed to be spot on. The Hanover/Stuart conflict was explained without devolving into a dry treatise, and seeing both sides of the issue in one novel made the concerns of the day seem alive and relevant. Also of interest were scenes of day-to-day life around the manor.
Anyone who has had a bitter breakup and then has to see their ex at parties and events will be familiar with Nora and Adrian’s feelings at the beginning of the book. They tried to hate each other, tried to ignore each other, would have been happier never having to see one another ever again, but events at court forced them into contact on many occasions, where they had to act coolly polite. But proximity has them speaking again, and this is one of the book’s strengths. Once the past is explained to him, Adrian is more than willing to forgive, and he proves to be a generous, caring hero.
Nora, unfortunately, stubbornly insists on loyalty to David. Even though he makes her stay on top of munitions stores, even though he takes off and leaves her holding the bag, even though he’s going to marry her off the minute he gets back from France, she stays loyal. I found it all pretty annoying, but different readers will probably have differing feelings about whether Nora’s loyalty was misplaced. It remained a question for me until almost the very end.
If I could I’d give this book an A on the strength of the cover alone. Imagine this – you read a very good description of the heroine in the body of the book, you flip to the cover…and wow! The cover art looks exactly as the heroine is described. That happens, like, never. As it is, I give this one a good, solid B+ and a definite recommendation.