Bewitching the Baron
Certain books feature a writing style that seems distant. For the romance novel – a genre that is based on emotion – a distant style can be a difficult problem for an author to overcome. It’s possible, however, if the storyline in the book is exciting and the characters, if not reachable, are at least understandable. Lisa Cach’s Bewitching the Baron features, at least for me, a distant quality of writing. And while the storyline is fairly exciting, the fact that the lead characters never came to life for me was not enough to make this an enjoyable book. And, although I thought the author captured the essence of the English countryside in the 1730’s, with its attendant superstition and fear of witches, the strong storyline fell apart when the book moved out of the country and into the city for its last quarter.
Valerian Bright is haunted by her skills as a healer – she can literally heal by touch. For generations, the women of her family have had some sort of special gift, and their gifts have gotten most of them killed. After the death of her parents, Valerian went to live with her aunt, whose gift is to forsee the future. The two live in a small village where they are viewed with mistrust, even though laws forbidding the killing of witches have been passed.
Nathaniel Warrington has been sent in disgrace to Ravenall, the estate he inherited from his uncle. He had dallied with a young woman outside of his class, and she committed suicide after his refusal to marry her. Accompanying him to Ravenall is his “friend,” Paul, who is recovering after being stabbed in the arse after his own dalliance with a married woman.
Nathaniel and Paul meet Valerian and her pet raven, Oscar, when they arrive at his estate. Nathaniel is taken with the wild-looking woman whose pet calls him an “Eee-diot,” but Paul is wary of her bewitching looks. Valerian agrees to see to Paul’s wound and Nathaniel finds her intelligence and manner at odds with his ideas about ignorant yokels. Paul goes out of his way to be in her company, and the two begin to fall in love.
In the past, the women of Valerian’s family not only had unusual gifts, but they generally ended up as mistresses to powerful men. Although she is attracted to Nathaniel, Valerian is not sure she wants to become intimate with him, but her aunt, knowing how little joy her niece has had in life, persuades her to take a chance with Nathaniel. Once Valerian and Nathaniel begin to make love with one another, they also begin to truly know one another, to share thoughts and secrets.
That distant quality I mentioned does impede upon the reader’s involvement through this part of the book, but then something worse happens – unbelievable coincidences begin to occur, and country atmosphere with its superstitous ambience that worked so well for most of the book began to deteriorate into melodrama. For some reason, romance authors almost always remove class differences artificially – don’t lower-class heroes and heroines inevitably end up having the blood of royalty or the nobility flowing through their veins? By the time the story moves to London and the inevitable involvement of Nathaniel’s family, any interest I had in the story completely disappeared.
Throughout the book, Nathaniel is haunted by his mistake with the young woman who killed herself, and it comes to haunt Valerian as well, for far too long. Nathaniel’s many proposals of marriage are rebuffed, and though the ending is never in doubt, the sense of joy one gets with reading a happy ending never happened for me.
There is a tremendous amount of promise in this book, and I’m sure many readers will enjoy it more than I. But I cannot recommend a book that never truly came alive for me, and that eventually became bogged down by its own weight.