Love of My Life
Word on the street is that Regencies are a dying breed, which is too bad, especially now that publishers have finally given them some really nice covers. This book has a lovely cover. But it also has a self-absorbed hero who decides to hurt someone else to make himself feel better. Oh, dear. Maybe the young lady on the front of the book should turn her back on him.
Cassandra Renwick is enjoying her first season in London, all the more so because she believes the very eligible Lord Felbridge is about to propose marriage. To her shock and dismay, when he takes her on a private stroll in the gardens, it’s not a proposal she hears, but instead his callous plan to enjoy himself with her a bit before he casts her off, because there’s no way he’d ever actually marry her. Humiliated when the word spreads through society that Felbridge was only leading her on, Cassandra flees England for Calcutta, India, where her father is attached to the Royal Governor’s staff.
To her surprise, things aren’t so different there; the English have re-created London as much as they can. Although Cassandra swears she is done with gentlemen, her mother insists on throwing her a ball. There Cassandra meets a man who appears English except for his brown skin, and the fact that all the Englishmen snub him. He’s very handsome, and Cassandra feels sorry for him, so when he manages an introduction, she agrees to dance with him.
Half Indian, half English, Julian Ritchie feels as though he doesn’t really belong in either world. His father returned to England years ago, and Julian has no real memory of him. His mother, who loves him dearly, wants him to be happy, and wishes he weren’t so determined to make the English accept him. Julian is a clerk for Sir Lionel Renwick, Cassandra’s father, but is passed over for every promotion and preferment because of his mixed heritage. He’s enchanted by Cassandra’s beauty and sweet nature and her kindness toward him in the face of her mother’s virulent bigotry, and takes every opportunity to see her and be with her.
So, you’re thinking at this point, star-crossed lovers! Forbidden romance! Well, sort of. Julian decides that he’ll get back at the Englishmen who’ve scorned him by making Cassandra fall in love with him, then dumping her. He tells one of his few English friends about this plan, and the man is properly appalled – Julian will lose his job as well as any trace of standing or respect in English society by fooling around with a gentleman’s daughter. But Julian doesn’t care. He just wants to get back at his father’s countrymen for all their prejudice and injustice toward him, because he knows he deserves so much more.
Cassandra is a young girl, and she acts like it. If the people around her had had more depth to them, she would have come off as rather immature and impulsive. As it is, though, she’s the most sympathetic character just because her frustrations are so obviously well earned. Felbridge really is a jerk to her; English colonial society in India really is deeply prejudiced against anyone with a drop of Indian blood; and Cassandra’s mother really is vain and shallow and bent on marrying her daughter to a social-climbing army officer. Cassandra’s essentially on her own, and while her actions are not always that sympathetic, at least they were in tune with the way I would expected a teenager with wounded feelings to act.
My charity didn’t extend quite that far with Julian. His resentment of his father and all Englishmen simmers barely below the surface until he can’t think straight about anything else. The author spent some time dwelling on his difficult position as a Eurasian, which I understood, but Julian wasn’t a heroic figure just because life dealt him an unpromising hand. Things could have been so much worse for him – his father married his mother and supported her for the rest of his life, even if he did it from England, and he also pulled strings to get Julian a good job. Julian falls in love with Cassandra, much to his own surprise, and decides to take the honorable course after all, even though he knows her father may reject him. But he goes into a sulk when he learns she’s already returned to England…because of something he did. His reaction to some unexpected good news later in the story was, well, selfish. His first thought most of the time was about himself: how was he to be accepted, how was he to be invited to parties, how was he to be dressed. Cassandra adores what she believes is Julian’s disinterest in what society thinks of him, which is just wrong. It is Cassandra who doesn’t much care about society, and she projects that feeling onto Julian, who is consumed by what English society thinks of him but weathers the snubs with apparent indifference while fuming about them inside. He tells himself he must become acceptable to society in order to win Cassandra, not because it’s what she truly wants, but because it’s what he really wants (and marrying Cassandra will also be nice). I couldn’t shake the impression that a proper English wife would be just the crowning touch in Julian’s quest to be accepted in England.
Regencies are on the short side, and the author does try to cover a lot of ground. The first part of the book takes place in India, which was a nice change of pace, and had some interesting details about Calcutta and Indian culture. The premise had promise, and the heroine was OK, but the hero just left me cold.