In Midwinter Magic, the final book in her Georgian-era Rockliffe series, author Stella Riley bids a heartwarming and utterly charming farewell to her cast of much-loved characters by bringing them all together for a memorable and magical Christmas celebration. (A warning – if you’re not familiar with the six novels that precede this series finale, you’ll likely have trouble keeping track of all the characters; if that’s the case, go back to book one, The Parfit Knight and make your way through the other books; I promise you won’t regret it!)
It’s Christmas 1778, and the Earl and Countess of Sarre – Adrian and Caroline Devereux – (The Player) have invited their closest friends to Sarre Park in Kent for the festive season. The Rockliffes, Amberleys, Chalfonts – and their respective children – the Audleys and Wynstantons, and Caroline’s grandpa Maitland and her good friend, Lily Brassington will all be in attendance, and Adrian and Caroline are looking forward to a convivial time spent in good company. Preparations for the house party are well under way, despite their housekeeper’s doom-laden pronouncements that decorating the house before Christmas Eve will bring bad luck – and Adrian has tasked his closest friend Bertrand Didier with overseeing the activities and entertainment for the duration.
With the company all assembled, things get off to a wonderful start with a visit to the beach – but on their return, it seems Betsy’s dire predictions have come true; Caroline’s pushy, social-climbing mother has arrived uninvited, and has brought Caroline’s two sisters with her. Caroline had been planning to invite them to stay at a later date, wanting to spare her guests Mrs. Maitland’s continual toadying and thinly veiled insults. But there’s nothing to be done; Caroline can’t send them back home and room is found for them at nearby Devereux House.
Otherwise, however, the house party continues as planned, with plenty of activities – for the adults as well as the children – overseen by the wily Bertrand, who really does seem to have thought of everything!
One of the many things I’ve always enjoyed about Stella Riley’s books is the way she creates such genuine friendships between her characters, something which is much in evidence here as we get to see so many of them interacting with each other, teasing and joking and supporting each other as all good friends should. There are two delightful romances to be found here (the one between the more mature couple was especially nice to see), and the various Christmas traditions are skilfully and vividly integrated into the story so that you can almost smell the greenery and see the coloured ribbons on the kissing boughs. Best of all, these are the characters we’ve come to know and love; Rock is his ducal, perceptive self, Sebastian is witty and a teeny bit naughty, Julian is charmingly distracted; and the children in the story are well-written and feel age appropriate. There are some wonderfully entertaining set-pieces, too – a boisterous game of football on the beach, a visit to Deal Castle, an impromptu concert for the tenants and villagers – and one of the most memorable moments in the book comes when Tom – the eldest of Julian and Arabella’s wards – reads a letter he’s written about his life, and his love for his adopted father, which is incredibly poignant and quite beautifully done.
The inclusion of the Maitlands and later, of Adrian’s obnoxious mother, serve to highlight that old adage that while you can choose your friends, you can’t choose your family; and their presence provides a stark contrast to the genuine warmth and affection the other characters so obviously find in their friendships and the happiness that permeates the rest of the book.
A Christmas story wouldn’t be a Christmas story without a bit of magic, and that’s here, too – albeit not in a way you might expect, and which I can’t say too much about without giving spoilers. Suffice it to say that it’s woven carefully through the story and is sure to delight fans of the series.
Midwinter Magic is just that, a magical combination of warmth and wit, love and laughter, and a perfect conclusion to one of the best historical romance series around.
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|Review Date:||December 13, 2020|
|Book Type:||Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||Georgian | Novella | Rockliffe series|
Thank you for this review! I know I’ve seen the author’s name in the past but have never indulged. Started The Parfit Knight a few days ago and am thoroughly enjoying this writer/series!
I’m so glad – Stella Riley has been one of my favourite authors for more than 30 years . You have some fabulous reads in store; my all-time favourite is A Splendid Defiance.
I tried to space out reading the Rockliffe books so that I could savor each one as I read it and still have ones to look forward to so am sad that the series is now at an end. I understand that all of the characters have been paired off, but the world is a bit less colorful now that I won’t be able to enter the Georgian world and visit with these by now old friends.
I was also disappointed that we did not see Ralph Harcourt, the Earl of Sherbourne, in this final episode. I wrote to Stella Riley to tell her that I found all of her other heroes to-die-for the minute they stepped onto the page. Sherbourne, however, started out as a villain; his character arc made him all the more intriguing to my mind. I wanted to see more of his transformation so his absence left me a bit wanting.
I agree about Sherbourne – I love a reformed bad-boy and was sad not to meet him again here. In fact, I said in my review of Cadenza that I liked his romance with Elizabeth better than the main one (because I didn’t like Arabella all that much!)
I, too, was sad to not see Elizabeth and Sherbourne in this. And I agree with Caz that theirs was the more interesting romance for me in Cadenza, although I liked Arabella and Julian’s romance,too.
I too felt that way about Ralph and was disappointed that he and Lizzie did not appear in this one. Were you aware however that he and Lizzie do appear in A Trick of Fate, the first of the Brandon Brother books. In that book you see more of his relationship with Lizzie and how that relationship had developed. You really see how much he loves and cherishes her and how he now fits in to the family.
I didn’t know this! Thanks. Did you enjoy Trick of Fate?
Yes. It is quite light hearted. Part of it is set in Scotland and as I am Scottish I was pleased that Stella had obviously done her research. Also there is quite a funny joke about a traditional Scottish dish and I liked the way in which she incorporated it.
Oh good! This is the one of hers I’d heard nothing about so I was curious.I’m going to add it to my list. Thanks again.
Read it last night and thoroughly enjoyed this series wrap-up. Sometime no doubt I’ll re-read all of them so all the names will be fresh. :-) Really didn’t even try to keep them straight this time!
I’m reading this now and enjoying it. I did stop part way in to go back over the descriptions of each of the previous books to refresh my memory for names, relationships, and titles. That helped.
Was the first of this series really written in 1987 and the last just this year?
From what I can tell, The Parfit Knight was published in 1987, and The Mesalliance in 1990, then a 15 year jump to book three in 2015. From then they’ve been published every year or so, with this novella being just released.
I think she had an older style website where she gave more detail about the reason for the gap. From memory, she took a break from writing, then came back and continued the series. I think she might be a teacher?
Yep, see above :) (And yes, she was a teacher).
Adding it to the list – sounds perfect right now! I’ll start at the beginning. This is what is so awesome about AAR.
Books one and two were indeed written in the late eighties. After publishing six (I think) novels by the early 90s, Stella decided to take a break, and only began writing again around eight (?) years ago. Initially, she revised and republished her older novels (including the first two Rockliffe books, A Splendid Defiance (my personal favourite of all her books) The Marigold Chain and the first two Civil War books) and then she began writing again, producing two more Civil War books and four more Rockliffe ones.
I love A Splendid Defiance, too but I might love The Marigold Chain best of all. I still haven’t read her Civil War books starting with The Black Madonna, but I intend to. Have you read A Trick of Fate?
I haven’t got to it yet, sadly.
Carrie G, After you read The Black Madonna Google “The Cheapside Hoard” It weaves the fiction with fact. Interesting. And I also loved Marigold Chain.
Thank you! I will. The Black Madonna is a little daunting at 22 hours on audio, but I plan to listen to it soon.
I like both The Marigold Chain and A Splendid Defiance, but think the latter is the better book. What struck me about TMC was that it was very much influenced by Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series, from the world weary hero down to quite small details. I believe it was Riley’s first book, though – by the time she wrote ASD she had developed her own voice.
Good that her books are more widely available now -‘they used to be very hard to find and often super expensive second hand.
ASD is still one of my all-time favourites and Justin is still up there with the best of the best book boyfriends ;)
You enjoyed this more than me, Caz.
Yes, it is really charming and the author does cleverly work up to the special finale which is a marvellous ending to the series, but the names nearly did for me, and I’ve read the series a number of times.
At various times, the characters were referred to by their forename, their surname or titled name and also, in some case, their rank. Fine for ‘the Duke’ as the whole series is named for him, but which one is ‘the Marquis’ for goodness sake? I got over it by not concerning myself with WHO said something and just concentrating on WHAT was said!
I admit I did have to stop and think a few times because there are a LOT of characters, but that didn’t happen too often. It’s a fun read though.