Major Wyclyff's Campaign
As Major Anthony Wyclyff lies in his hospital bed dying of fever, he begs his charitable visitor Sophia Rathburn to marry him. Lady Sophia, an old hand at hospital visits, accepts his proposal. It’s her standard response, intended to give comfort when she’s certain the patient is dying. Considering that no one ever, ever succumbs under these circumstances in any romance novel, it’s a wonder she hasn’t been caught out before. Naturally, Anthony recovers within the month and sets out to claim his bride, but there are complications. Although Sophia never took the proposal seriously, she has been depressed ever since she was told the major had died, and has resigned from London society and the marriage mart for good.
The first section of this book is charming, but unfortunately the story becomes convoluted and implausible. Sophia has been a darling of the ton for five years running, while Anthony is an impoverished second son and far beneath her socially. As he sets out in pursuit, it never once crosses Anthony’s mind that his beloved might be less than eager to see him. At first I found Anthony’s implacable certainty that Sophia will marry him oddly endearing, but after she’d turned him down the first half-dozen times I really wondered why he couldn’t take a hint. His attempts to bind her become increasingly coercive and rather disturbing. After Sophia decides to disrupt a local cockfight (with very entertaining results), Anthony convinces the local magistrate to put them both in the same cell overnight. This will of course destroy Sophia’s reputation, but Anthony believes it will be all right as long as Sophia resigns herself to marrying him first thing in the morning. I liked the depiction of Anthony’s thought processes – he does believably appear to have Sophia’s best interests at heart – but I couldn’t condone his methods. Similarly, I liked Sophia’s pellmell escape to the country, and chuckled as she symbolically renounced society by burying her corsets and an escritoire. But I assumed there was a method to her madness, and when I learned later on that she has chosen spinsterhood even though she has no money or means of support, my opinion of her dropped several notches.
The author is good at conveying her character’s emotions without laborious explanations. I particularly appreciate the subtle implication that Sophia’s quitting of society has more to do with grief over Anthony’s supposed death than disenchantment with the superficial ton. However, this quality also suffers as the characters grow thinner. Each of them is charming when they mull things over privately, but while I enjoyed their idiosyncratic perspectives, I never felt they understood each other. Their conflict degenerates into one of those perpetual “How dare you love me” spats. For too much of the book, the only real obstacle to their relationship is stubbornness – can’t say “I love you,” can’t renounce a hasty decision. A latebreaking action plot twist that arises from out of nowhere doesn’t help matters at all.
Katherine Greyle’s writing has a definite spark that should eventually ignite. Major Wyclyff’s Campaign seems to have all the pieces for an enjoyable romp, but unfortunately they don’t quite fit together. I look forward to seeing this author’s potential more fully realized in a later book.