Desert Isle Keeper
The Master of Grex
A new book by Joan Wolf is a cause for celebration. Wolf has an incredible backlist – read one of her books and it won’t be your last.
Let’s deconstruct the plot of her recent book, The Master of Grex. Daniel Dereham’s entrance into London society is curiously reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas’s Dantès, the Count of Monte Cristo, and his conquest of the French aristocracy, particularly Parisian society. Similarly, the English ton is intensely curious about plain Mr. Dereham. He’s rich, very handsome, and at ease in society. Adding to the mystery, he has a certain unmistakable resemblance to an English earl. Who is he and where does he come from? What does he want? Daniel aligns himself with Lord Althorpe, “one of the leaders of the Whigs in parliament.” As a progressive factory owner, Dereham and Althorpe have an interest in social reform in common.
Lady Anne Saxton, the beautiful, impoverished daughter of the Earl of Grex, sees a “slender, black-haired man” at the Althorpe’s ball and asks her cousin Jeremy who he is:
“He’s not one of us,” Jeremy said. “He’s one of those nabobs who went out to India and came home with a fortune. There are all sorts of wild stories about how he became so rich, but no one knows for sure. He’s a bit of a mystery.”
The best way to launder a Nabob’s fortune into respectability is to marry an aristocrat of impeccable lineage. Lady Anne is such a girl but unfortunately for her choices on the marriage mart, her father has drained Grex, the estate she so loves, and he’s spent her dowry on his debts. Her stay in London with the Countess of Moresack has not produced any proposals, yet she knows she must marry. Anne misses her home in the country desperately. Her father springs Daniel Dereham on her, appealing to her deepest desire: “You’ll have Grex to live in. You’ll have your own horses and dogs.” [An aside, has there ever been a Wolf heroine who is not an accomplished horsewoman?]
It may seem that Anne’s ability to negotiate is non-existent but she has deep reserves of moral courage. When Daniel visits her, she cuts to the chase: “I’ll put my cards on the table if you’ll put yours.” She tells him that “Grex is the place I love best in the world,” while Daniel counters that Grex, rundown as it is, is not much of a dowry and that it will take an enormous fortune to bring it back to life. Is all hope lost? No.
“I want to live in a beautiful, gracious home, a home such as Grex will be when I finish renovating it. I would also like to create a small stud at Grex to breed pure Arabian horses. And I desire a wife who will be a gracious hostess for me, and a loving mother to my children. Are you willing to accept that role?”
“Yes,” Anne said, “I am.”
Notice there’s no word of love. But Daniel knows how to seal the deal.
He smiled at Anne, the devastating smile whose impact he perfectly understood. He was pleased with this young woman. She was trying to be calm and businesslike, but he saw through the façade to her essential innocence. As she herself had admitted, she was a young girl who loved her home. She probably had dogs and a favorite horse. It shouldn’t be too hard to make her fall in love with him.
Like every author, Wolf has a unique style. Her heroes are self-contained, charming, and fully aware of the effects of their charms on others, both men and women. Her heroines are women of great moral courage and rest assured, ultimately, no hero can resist them. The Master of Grex is a classic marriage of convenience plot but we know that an HEA is inevitable: sit back and enjoy the journey of discovery.