Desert Isle Keeper
A Retro Review
originally published on June 3, 2002
Tracy Grant’s newest release, Daughter of the Game, was not a keeper for me, but I did find it intriguing enough to seek out her backlist, and I’m glad that I did. Rightfully His was a most engaging read – exquisitely plotted, full of interesting, multi-dimensional characters, and drenched in moral conflict. If you’re looking for a Regency-set historical that’s not the same old, same old, look no further. This is it.
Charlotte de Ribard’s life underwent enormous upheaval five years ago. She learned that her father, Daniel de Ribard, a man she idolized and adored, had conspired with her fiancé to murder her cousin. Daniel subsequently fled the country leaving her in possession of Chelmsford, a small estate that has provided her with a living. Her fiancé was killed. Unsure of whom she can trust, Charlotte refuses a proposal of marriage from Francis Storbridge, Daniel’s former secretary. She lets him know in no uncertain terms that she considers him tainted with her father’s ignominy.
Five years later Daniel, who was never formally charged with any crime, returns to England and begins to spin a web of blackmail and deception in order to further his railroad building schemes. He comes to Charlotte and offers to buy Chelmsford from her at a generous price. Charlotte is happy to refuse him. He makes a counteroffer. He has a piece of incriminating evidence that shows her brother-in-law, Silverton, took a bribe for falsifying information on a railroad survey. If Charlotte will not sell Chelmsford, Daniel will take his evidence to Francis Storbridge, who has come up in the world and is now Silverton’s opponent in Parliament.
Charlotte doesn’t want her family hurt, so she goes to Frank and asks for help with Daniel. He offers it – for a price. She must marry him. He has loved her for years, and though he was hurt both by her refusal and her accusations, he still wants her anyway he can get her. As an explanation for his conditions, he tells her he needs a mother for his small, motherless daughter and four wards. Thus begins a complicated story of double-dealing, betrayal, lies, truth, and enduring love.
The above rather complex, three-paragraph summary is merely the set-up of an extremely intricate plot. It covers only the first fifty pages. For an additional almost 350 pages, the story twists and turns constantly and unpredictably as Frank and Charlotte bargain with Daniel and try to outwit him. Daniel is a most formidable enemy, and as such, very intriguing. I must admit, I’m a sucker for an amoral character with feelings. Rand Morgan (of Laura London’s The Windflower), Davy Dempsey (of Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation), Danny French (of Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s Till the Stars Fall) – give me these three any day over a black-mustachioed villain. Daniel fits right in with them. The reader is never allowed into his head, so he must be interpreted by his dastardly deeds, but Grant hints at the deep regret he has over losing his daughter’s love, and that, combined with the agony we know Charlotte feels over her lingering affection for him, was most affecting.
Frank is nicely complicated as well. He feels guilty about coercing Charlotte, yet he is determined to have her. In a mere five years, he has climbed several rungs on Society’s ladder, using any and all resources available to him. He is a politician, and though he is devoted to extending the rights of men and the conditions under which they labor and toil, he knows when to cut line when something is impossible to accomplish. But while he is definitely not a saint, he is also no devil. He cares for and supports his four wards, he’s a kind father to his daughter, and he treats Charlotte with respect and solicitude. He is actually a model of restraint, especially considering the weight of the torch he’s been carrying around for her.
Charlotte is “good to the core,” but also complex. Molded and educated by Daniel, she doesn’t know how much of him is in her. It doesn’t take much time for her long-repressed feelings for Frank to surface, but it does take a while for her to get comfortable with them enough to do anything about them. The one quibble I have with this book is that I wish the marriage consummation had come sooner in the story. When it did come, however, it was worth the wait.
The cast of supporting characters is interesting as well. There is a tiny secondary romance, a marriage-on-the-rocks situation involving Charlotte’s sister Céline and her husband, Silverton. This is done very nicely. And two happy couples from previous books make appearances to aid the Storbridge cause. Thankfully, these couples manage to behave themselves and do not spend pages cooing in marital bliss.
Rightfully His was just a superior book – perhaps because of all the things it was not. It was not predictable. It was not saccharine or unbelievable. It was not boring. It was a book I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning reading because it was so interesting and well done. I’ve already gone out and bought most of Grant’s backlist, including the books she wrote with her mother as Anthea Malcolm. I’m very excited about reading them. If they’re anything like this one, I’ve got many happy hours of reading ahead of me.