From Cinderella to Countess
Annie Burrows’ From Cinderella to Countess is an average read complicated by its overtly silly characters and stock plot choices. Burrows’ style raises the grade enough to take it above a D, but there are fresher historicals out there which I’d recommend before this one.
The impoverished daughter of nobility, Eleanor Mitcham has a crush on Peter, Lord Lavenham, even though he’s far out of her social league. Aware of his wealth, she’s also aware of her own position – her high-minded parents left her with nothing but books, and the lack of funds has caused her to go to work as a ladies maid for his great-aunt by marriage Lady Bradbury. Yet Eleanor and Peter have become great friends as of late, and the elderly lady knows just why Peter’s visits have suddenly become more frequent. While Lady Bradbury calls Lord Lavenham a rake, Eleanor has no knowledge of such behavior, and thus continues to have a pash for him, in spite of her mistress’ warnings that should she try to so much as speak to him she is at risk of losing her job.
Peter is attracted to the shy Eleanor, and when he learns about his great aunt’s edict he concocts a scheme. Partly to tick off his great aunt, partly because he really likes Eleanor but does not want to allow himself to be Ruined By True Love like his best friend and parents, and partly because he know he needs to Do His Duty and continue the Lavenham line, Peter decides to marry Eleanor.
Unfortunately, Peter’s proposal lacks couth and romance – he vows to be faithful to her for a month, and says she can have a man on the side if she so chooses, as long as it’s after he gets an heir on her. Thus, even after they plant a passionate kiss upon each other’s lips, Eleanor is horrified by the prospect of marrying for sex and heirs and not love and passion. She decides to flee Lady Bradbury’s employ in the middle of the night and by luck in a nearby town bumps into the Dowager Countess of Theakstone, whose footman is asking for directions. The Countess so takes a shine to Eleanor that she invites the girl to London, then styles the plain ladies’ companion over with furs and a put-on accent and introduces her as the mysterious Miss White.
Peter takes off in pursuit of Eleanor, but loses sight of her until London, then is incensed by both her choice to abandon him and her rebirth as Miss White. Yet the attraction between them remains strong. Can this relationship be saved?
From Cinderella to Countess is dragged down by the childish behavior of its characters. Peter is petulant and spoiled to a degree – his parents never loved him, ergo love is a trifle to be kicked around – and he gets very whiny when Eleanor dares to think the worst of him. Eleanor is a doormat with little personality, and a thousand times less interesting than The Countess of Theakstone, whose fraught relationship with her former-son in law was more interesting than Eleanor’s constant mousey meeping.
Eleanor and Peter go through the usual misunderstandings and inability to communicate with each other, but can’t stay away from each other because of their sexual combustibility – as much of that as we can get in the suddenly bowdlerized world of Harlequin Historicals.
The best part of the book is definitely the delightful Countess of Theakstone, who is unusual and daffy and fun in a way that makes her very entertaining. The setting is also decently researched.
Otherwise, there’s nothing particularly wrong with From Cinderella to Countess – there just isn’t anything particularly right about it either, and it doesn’t bear the spark or the mark of a worthwhile Harlequin Historical.
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