Discovering Miss Dalrymple
Readers who have been following Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series will know that the various novels and novellas are linked by virtue of the fact that the heroines all receive a carefully chosen magical gift upon a landmark birthday (twenty-one, twenty-three or twenty-five, depending on the particular branch of the family they belong to) in recognition of a long-ago favour performed by one of their ancestors for the Faerie Godmother, Baletongue. Charlotte Appleby (Unmasking Miss Appleby) can shape-shift, Letty Trentham (Trusting Miss Trentham) can tell if someone is lying, and when Georgiana Dalrymple reached her twenty-third birthday, she chose the gift of being able to find things.
Discovering Miss Dalrymple is the sixth book in the series, and is, like most of the others, named for its heroine, although the stories in each have been as much about the hero’s journey as about the heroine’s. In this book, however, the emotional weight is very firmly shouldered by the male lead, Alexander, Duke of Vickery (mostly known as Vic), with Georgiana providing constant, loving support as he struggles to make sense of new information he has been given about his past and to re-define himself in the light of what he has learned.
Vic and Georgiana more or less grew up together, alongside her brother, Oliver, and Vic’s closest friend, Hubert Cathcart. Six years earlier, just after realising he’d fallen in love with her, Vic had to put on a brave face when Georgiana and Hubert became engaged. Tragically, however, the wedding never took place. Hubert had travelled to Scotland to visit his grandfather and never returned; for years, nothing was known of what had happened until about a year before this story begins, his grave was found in a remote churchyard near Craigruie.
Vic is as much in love with Georgiana as he ever was, and has hopes that perhaps she may feel the same way. He asks Lord Dalrymple for permission to court her and is given it – but before he can profess his love and ask for Georgina’s hand, he discovers something that turns his world upside down and makes him question everything he has ever known about himself.
He has always known what happened to him as a child; that when he was just four years old, he was abducted and sold to a chimney sweep in Exeter before he was found a year later and returned to his family. After that, his relationship with his previously distant father had changed for the better, and the two had become very close. It’s been a couple of years since his father died, and Vic is still moved to read some of the things the late duke wrote in his diaries about how proud he was of his son; but when Vic comes to an entry written shortly before his death, he is shocked to discover that toward the end of his life, his father had wondered if the boy he had rescued all those years ago was truly his own flesh and blood.
Shaken, Vic turns to Georgiana for help. Around a year ago, she had finally discovered the whereabouts of Hubert’s grave, explaining that she had seen the location in a dream. Another time, she had found a missing girl, once again, seeing the location in a dream. (Of course, the reader knows how Georgiana actually found them.) Knowing this, Vic thinks that if he isn’t his father’s son, maybe Georgina will be able to find the real Alexander in the same way; if not, then no such person exists and Vic will be able to accept that his father’s fears of having rescued the wrong boy were unfounded.
Discovering Miss Dalrymple is a long novella or short novel, depending on how you want to look at it, and it’s a fairly straightforward story in which Vic, Georgiana and her father undertake a short road-trip to see what they can find out about Alexander St. Clare, seventh Duke of Vickery, and the truth of what happened to him as a child.
Because it’s clear early on that Vic and Georgina are in love, there’s not a great deal of conflict in the story, which is focused on Vic’s search for the truth and his need to make sense of his life in light of the things he finds out. But that in no way means there’s not much going on. The author writes Vic’s sense of betrayal and confusion with a great deal of insight and the themes of love and trust which permeate the story are handled deftly, yet sincerely. There’s a point at which Vic goes through the “I am not worthy of her” stage, although this isn’t spurred solely by his worries about his origins, but by the fact he is still terrified of the dark (which is understandable given he had been put to work as a climbing boy). Ms. Larkin writes Vic’s visceral reactions to his fear in a way that jumps off the page and enables the reader to really feel his terror, but its inclusion feels a little misplaced within the context of the story, and I knocked my final grade down a bit because of it. On a positive note, though, this phase doesn’t last long, as Vic realises that Georgiana loves him regardless of his (perceived) weaknesses or who his real parents may have been and that the qualities that make him who he is – his sense of responsibility, his love of the land and his love for Georgiana – remain the same whether he’s a duke or a commoner. The familial relationships are well drawn, too; Georgiana’s parents are wonderfully warm, witty and loving, and while we only see Vic’s father through his diary entries, he obviously loved his son and was deeply proud of him.
Discovering Miss Dalrymple is an enjoyable addition to a favourite and consistently entertaining series from an author who has very quickly earned a place on my ‘must read’ list. This story doesn’t quite have the intensity of some of the longer entries (Trusting Miss Trentham or Ruining Miss Wrotham, for instance), but it’s nonetheless a well-developed and emotionally satisfying read and I’m happy to recommend it.
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