Paying the Virgin's Price
The ramshackle father wagering away his daughter’s virtue to the disreputable gambler? Heard that one before. But setting the action ten years after the fact, when the gambler still hasn’t followed through, and adding a twenty-year-old murder mystery come to haunt the current generation? That’s a bit different.
Before I get into the plot, I’ll say there are details, and then there are Details. I’ll deal with the former first, because it’s a whole lot simpler. Ten years earlier Diana Price’s father gambled away his daughter’s virginity, and she lives with that axe hanging over her head. Currently working as a chaperone for an aristocratic family, she is relatively content in her situation, until one day a very attractive stranger comes to see her employer.
The very attractive man is Nathan Wardale, former seaman and the gambler owed Diana’s innocence. He came to warn his childhood friend of impending danger, but is dumbstruck to discover Diana’s identity. Nathan keeps his own quiet, but through sheer chance (as well as some machinations on the part of Diana’s charges,) he and Diana keep meeting, and their mutual attraction strengthens.
Hang on, though. Those are the details. But let’s not forget the Details, and this is where the book loses out. The old mystery is an interesting thread that began with Louise Allen’s first entry in the series (which I haven’t read) and will continue for six more books. This plot is multifaceted enough to keep me interested, especially concerning a Gypsy who isn’t always what he seems. I can applaud Ms. Merrill for writing a coherent book that piques the interest. However, it’s just so darn full. It overflows with happenings (past and present), feelings (past and present), and so on and so forth. None of it is bad and, all things considered, Ms. Merrill writes remarkably fluidly, but the book suffers as a result of all this Detailed baggage.
Where the book does succeed, and the reason for the recommendation, is that even if it isn’t what it could have been, it’s still a decent way to pass the time. Diana and Nathan are sensible, nice people who have paid and continue to pay for their decisions, and Ms. Merrill provides refreshing twists to some potentially tedious details. The gambling of the virginity is one; the fact that Nathan is a deserter is another (and you don’t see that often). But the author doesn’t differ just for originality’s sake – there is logic and understanding to the characterization that I appreciate.
Paying the Virgin’s Price begins as something slightly more and ends up as something slightly less because it is too crammed. Still, the execution is solid, with no muss and relatively little fuss. For that alone I can recommend it.