The Seduction of Lady X
The Seduction of Lady X is the last book in Ms. London’s series The Secrets of Hadley Green and that’s a good thing. The series is built around the whereabouts of a set of ruby jewelry, and in all three books, that plotline has been lackluster. In the first two books, however, the love stories were compelling. In this book, the love story is not. The novel is a depressing read with a strained happy ending. The heroine endures an alcoholic spouse who physically abuses and rapes her; she has a sister who almost justifies sororicide; she loves a man she can never have. Her life, until page 359, is one of misery and I didn’t enjoy reading about it at all.
The other two books in the series have taken place in Hadley Green and have centered on its leading family, the Ashfords. This novel is set in the village of Everdon and focuses on the Careys. The heroine of this novel, Olivia, is married to the Marquis of Carey; the hero, Harrison Tolley, is the steward of the Carey family holdings. Harrison, a saint of man, is the illegitimate yet legally valid heir to the Ashford title of Earl and corresponding estate. One would think this heritage, which Harrison learns of in the beginning of The Seduction of Lady X, would be a significant plot point. After all, the series has been focused on the secrets hidden by the Ashford family. One would be wrong. In this book, inexplicably, when Harrison is informed he is a wealthy Earl, neither he nor the author does much with that information. Instead, Harrison (and the novel) is focused on his impossible love for Olivia, the married Lady Carey.
Olivia, a determinedly cheerful beauty, married for love and for money. Her husband married for an heir, and Olivia, after six years, has not conceived. Olivia’s lack of fertility enrages Edward, a horrendous man. Edward’s rage is magnified when Alexa, Olivia’s selfish eighteen year-old sister, arrives at the Carey home, Everdon Court, pregnant and unwed. (The sisters’ parents are dead and they have no other family to turn to.) Edward, already appalling, becomes a monster. He says to Olivia, when she and Alexa come to tell him of Alexa’s plight:
I find it interesting that while you are as barren as a Scottish moor, your sister is a whore who apparently will conceive a by-blow with any man who lifts her skirts.
He berates Olivia repeatedly, beats her, and, finally, rapes her.
All this abuse is written in a disconcertingly light tone. It’s as if Ms. London is unwilling to acknowledge how awful Olivia’s treatment at the hands of Edward actually is. I had a hard time making myself turn the pages — the way Olivia’s circumstances were described unsettled me.
Olivia tolerates her husband’s abuse in part because she dreams of being loved by a man like Harrison. Harrison fell in love with Olivia the moment he first saw her and, though he’s never said a word to her about his feelings, she feels joyful whenever he is near her. The two, prior to Alexa’s arrival, exist in a state of tragically unattainable love. But when Edward announces he plans to send Alexa to a convent and have her baby put up for adoption, Harrison, who will do anything to make Olivia’s life more bearable, offers to marry Alexa. Alexa, an unlikable, spoiled chit, only says yes to him when she discovers, by reading his mail, he could be an Earl. Olivia, despite being happy her sister’s life isn’t being completely destroyed, is stricken at the idea of Harrison and Alexa as a couple.
The plot just gets more depressing from there. It seems impossible Harrison and Olivia will ever find their way to any sort of HEA and thus when, at the novel’s end, they swiftly do, it’s unrewarding. I felt that, if it weren’t for the conventions of the genre, Harrison, Olivia, and Alex all would have lived unhappily ever after.
And then there’s the utter dud of a conclusion to the basic premise of the series. It’s as if Ms. London decided her tale of lost gems wasn’t worth perusing, and so in this concluding tale, she abandoned it. I was also baffled at Harrison’s complete lack of interest in his inheritance. The Seduction of Lady X is disconnected from the other two books in the series and yet, oddly and irritatingly, can’t be read as a stand-alone.
I was disappointed in this book. It’s unconvincing, awkward, and inconclusive. Were titles required to be accurately descriptive, The Seduction of Lady X should have been called The Misery of Lady X.