The Mistress Diaries
Has this happened to you? Rationally, you know all the reasons why you should dislike a novel, or at least consider it no more than average. Yet you find it a gripping read, root for the characters, and decide to order the other volumes in the series, minor and not so minor flaws notwithstanding. This is what I experienced with Julianne MacLean’s The Mistress Diaries, the follow-up to In My Wildest Fantasies.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Although the books is 370 pages long, the font is so big that it feels no more than a 250-page-book. It does make for a quick read, but I felt a bit ripped off. The set-up of the whole series is even more silly than average: The old Duke of Pembroke has turned senile, and convinces himself that his family is under a curse which will cause a flood on his estates unless his four sons are married by the end of the year. The novel’s title comes from snippets of diary entries written by the heroine and inserted at the beginning of each chapter, which add absolutely nothing to the book as a whole and just distract the reader. In addition, the historical background is used very little. So what made the book so enjoyable?
In the prologue, Lord Vincent Sinclair, second son to the Duke of Pembroke, and Cassandra, the widowed Lady Colchester, fall into a hotel bed together. Cassandra has come to London to vet a possible suitor because her husband’s heir is pressuring her to remarry, but one look at the darkly handsome and rakish Lord Vincent drives all prudence away, and she agrees to one night of passion. The ensuing scene is hot, funny and moving. It’s a very obvious case of love at first sight (which I happen to believe in), but both characters are so utterly determined to act cool and sophisticated that they miss out on getting their HEA straight away.
A year later, Lord Vincent bows to his father’s wishes and gets engaged to Lady Letitia, the duke’s choice for him. During a visit of Lady Letitia’s to the Sinclairs’ country seat, Cassandra turns up, hands her three-month-old baby to Vincent’s astonished mother, claims it’s Vincent’s, and tries to leave. Vincent’s brothers catch up with her, however, and take her back to the castle. When Vincent interviews her, he finds out that their night together resulted in a pregnancy, that both Cassandra’s cousin-in-law and her parents repudiated her, she couldn’t get in touch with him (read the reasons!) and so she found work in a hat shop and has only given her baby to the duchess (note: not to Vincent) to raise because she fears she is dying of consumption. The duke’s physician quickly finds out that Cassandra is only malnourished and suffering from a bad cold. So now Vincent finds himself in the following situation: He is engaged to a woman he may not repudiate because if he does he and his brothers will lose their inheritances; his former lover is staying at the same house as his betrothed and considers him an utter cad; and he instantly falls for his little daughter and must decide what kind of role he wants to play in her life.
Although their ages are never mentioned, Vincent and Cassandra feel young. They are not at all stupid, but there is an idealism, a dedication and seriousness underlying their actions (even Vincent’s rakish ways) that speak of comparative youth. Cassandra is probably a tad idealistic regarding the power of love, but at the end, in a remarkable scene, that turns out to be her big asset.
Vincent is used to people expecting next to nothing from him, and starts off determined to keep it this way. In contrast to many wounded souls who become rakes, however, he never acts dismissive or superior about other people’s more moral attitudes. However strained their relationship is at times, he always respects Cassandra, and I liked him for that.
The Mistress Diaries is a heartwarming tale about a patchwork family, which – wallpaper tendencies notwithstanding – treats the difficulties of being financially dependent on a man to whom one is not married with far more seriousness than many other historicals. In spite of the novel’s undeniable flaws, I fell for Vincent and Cassandra, and look forward to reading the other installments in the series.