As I was reading Lavender Blue, I couldn’t help thinking that a good novel was like a puppet show, with the author expertly maneuvering the strings behind the scenes. You know the puppets aren’t moving across the stage on their own, but the manipulation is so seamless you hardly know there’s a puppeteer. This book isn’t that kind of puppet show at all. Rather, it put me in mind of the shows my daughters used to stage from their top bunk bed, complete with crudely executed sock puppets, loud stage whispers, and the occasional puppeteer’s head surfacing above the “scenery” (draped blanket). Pretty much everything about this book is heavy-handed and obvious.
Lady Anthea Wintour is surprised to receive a letter from her father telling her that he has married again. He’d been a widower for ten years, so his newfound love is quite unexpected. Sadly, it is also short-lived. His new bride dies after only a few weeks, and he goes off to Brazil to explore the Amazon (ostensibly it’s because of his grief, but really because the plot just requires him to be elsewhere). He sends his new stepdaughter to stay with Anthea and her chaperone, Lady Letitia. Lady Letitia is a spinster who never got over a sad love affair (you actually find this out for sure later in the book, but Heath drops repeated, broad hints which will perhaps make you feel clever when all is “revealed.”). Corinna Pranton (the stepdaughter) arrives and is instantly beloved by Anthea and Letitia.
Anthea thinks perhaps she is destined to be an old maid herself. Not long ago she was madly in love with Jovian, a duke with magical powers. When they kissed, they literally flew to the rooftops. Unfortunately, just as their engagement was about to be announced Jovian turned to drink and said some cruel things to Anthea. Now he is a constant drunkard, and every time Anthea sees him she feels disgust for his present state and a longing for the old, sober Jovian. One day she sees him, and he seems a little more sober than usual. He gives her a sprig of lavender, which surprises her because lavender is out of season. He also tells her, “Beware, Anthea, for things might soon happen that are far, far beyond your experience.” Anthea thinks about these words throughout the book – a lot. They sound fairly cheesy to begin with, and after the third repetition I started mentally converting the sentence to “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”
Corinna and Anthea go about the season, and while Corinna isn’t formally “out,” she attends a few quiet engagements and picks up some beaux. The most dashing young gentleman in the circle is Sir Erebus Lethe, a handsome man who secretly gives Corinna a pomegranate so he can control her (don’t ask). Meanwhile, Anthea notices strange things happening, that are far, far beyond her experience. Stuff like magic, leering rabbits, thunder when there’s no rain, and her step-sister wandering into her room in a nightgown stained with pomegranate juice. Sure enough, strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
Matters come to a head when Corinna meets a mysterious, long-lost aunt who invites them all to her country home in Gloucestershire. Jovian (who is now mostly sober) warns Anthea that the journey is a Bad Idea. Anthea naturally wants to know why. Jovian can’t tell her, because if he did they might actually stay home, and then the book would be over one hundred pages too early. So he tells her that all will be revealed later, and they resolve to proceed with their journey as planned. Meanwhile, Sir Erebus tips his hand when he treats Anthea rudely and manhandles her. As he’s bodily removed from her yard, Anthea recalls that strange things will be happening which are far, far beyond her experience. And just in case the reader is afraid that Sir Erebus will never be seen again, he looks back at Anthea’s house and says, “You aren’t protected from me that easily, my pretty.” A fun game to try at home: see if you can read the words “my pretty” without mentally adding, “and your little dog, too!”
As the party makes their way to Gloucestershire, strange things begin happening which are far, far beyond Anthea’s experience. Lots of people in the fields are chanting to Demeter as they harvest their crops, and they have an unpleasant meeting with Sir Erebus. Any remaining readers who are a little foggy on where the plot is headed are enlightened by Heath’s helpful foreshadowing:
No one could have known that Corinna’s was no ordinary sleep, but something much more sinister. They would discover it soon enough, but by then it would be too late, Jovian’s frequent warnings would not have been heeded, and Corinna would be in the clutches of Sir Erebus Lethe.
Of course people might be more likely to heed Jovian’s warnings if he explained why he was issuing them, and there is no reason for him to keep anything secret. But his puppeteer has told him to keep mum, so by God he will. Once they arrive in Glouchestershire, strange things begin to happen that are far, far beyond Anthea’s experience. Fortunately, Jovian is now completely sober and fully able to communicate with her telepathically in any given situation. Whenever she’s in doubt about what to do, his voice just pops into her head with directions, in a manner reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Use the force, Luke.
The plot marches on to its obviously scripted conclusion, with everything nicely telegraphed for the reader before it happens, just so there won’t be any unnecessary surprises. My personal favorite comes at the end, when one of the villains appears to be defeated too easily. Just in case you can’t figure out that he will cause trouble later (possibly because you have never read a novel or seen a movie before), Heath is careful to tip you off. Oh, and everyone lives happily ever after.
As ridiculous and obvious as I found this book, it doesn’t really merit an F rating; it’s just too cheesy for that. Sometimes those inexpert puppet shows have some amusing moments. But since life is short and tbr piles are not, I’d recommend catching a different performance.