So In Love
A long-time fan of Karen Ranney’s romances, I looked forward to reading this latest offering. It didn’t disappoint, with as well portrayed a hero and heroine as I have read in a long time, a memorably original plot and exquisite prose. Although a powerfully written novel, some problems kept it from being the keeper I’d hoped for.
When Douglas McRae visits a business acquaintance named Hartley, he is surprised to be confronted by a woman he has believed dead for years. Jeanne Du Marchand is governess in Hartley’s household, and Hartley openly sizes her up as a potential bedmate in front of Douglas, who listens on, infuriated. Douglas is torn between the breathtaking chemistry they once shared, and hatred for the woman whom he believes tried to kill their child. He resolves to have Jeanne watched, in case she tries to leave the city without his knowledge. A chance encounter in the street leaves him certain that he is unable to let her out of his life so easily again, feelings of loathing for her past sins aside.
As the plot goes on we learn that, ten years previously, Jeanne Du Marchand conducted an intimate affair with Douglas. When she broke the news of her impending pregnancy to her father, a wealthy French aristocrat, she expected he’d permit her to marry. Instead he confines her to a convent for the duration of her pregnancy and commissions a servant to have the baby killed. Douglas is led to believe it was Jeanne who ended their relationship, and when he eventually goes back to look for her, finds that she appears to have absconded and dumped his child to die. His bitterness towards her as they meet again ten years on is clearly explained.
Douglas is torn between hatred for Jeanne and the powerful chemistry that exists between them and continues to draw them closer. When Hartley attempts to seduce Jeanne, she flees the house in secret, only to be nabbed by one of Douglas’ servants. She is taken to Douglas’s remote estate, where she will act as governess of his own daughter. Meanwhile, Jeanne’s noble French father, whom she has learned to hate while confined for ten years in the nunnery and subjected to torture at the hands of a crazed, sin-obsessed nun, has come back in pursuit of a very valuable gem that belonged to Jeanne’s mother, which he believes she has.
Jeanne and Douglas find it impossible to exist in the same household on a platonic level, and soon they have become passionate lovers at night, unable to address the tangled-up truth of the past. The first half of this book I found incredibly powerful, in its description of Jeanne’s tormented past at the hands of the nuns, and how badly and unfairly she is subsequently treated by Douglas, who still believes the worst of her. However, as the novel progressed, I found my patience tried by their constant unwillingness to confront the past. It just didn’t seem to be believable that close lovers as they are, they would fail to get into a discussion on the subject. Jeanne fails to set Douglas straight time and again, letting him cast aspersions on her character purely because the nuns left her so inured to pain that she values their every moment together as if it is the last. This is the only explanation the reader is given, and I found it inadequate.
However, there is much good to be said about this story. Though the plot may sound contrived in synopsis, the way it is written is extremely compelilng. Neither of the characters can be said to be to blame for the misunderstanding that led to their estrangement. Ranney is such a talented writer that both Douglas and Jeanne get a share of sympathy for the misery they endured because of Jeanne’s cold-hearted father. The way she describes the chemistry between them leaves the reader in no doubt as to why they would be willing to put off the inevitable recriminations and discussions about the past, in order to prolong such bliss. I’ve read and enjoyed historical novels featuring many a tortured hero, but this was the first time I ‘ve read of such a sympathetically-written tortured heroine.
I can definitely recommend So In Love as a satisfying read. While the heroine in particular avoided for too long dealing with her secrets, which frankly resulted in an almost anticlimactic resolution of past issues, the rest of the story more than makes up for this problem. Ultimately this is a better book than many I’ve come across in recent times.