The Silver Rose
While forced marriage generally isn’t my thing, I do often like Jane Feather’s novels and I love that she has often chosen less commonly used settings for her tales. Her 1997 novel, The Silver Rose, takes place in England during the reign of Queen Anne. The spirit of the time, and the lingering shadows both of the English Civil War and Charles II’s sometimes raucous court echo through the story and give it a sense of time and place that made me feel as if I was sinking into another world.
We learn early on in the story that the once-Royalist Ravenspeare family and their neighbors, the Hawkesmoors, formerly sympathizers of Parliament, loathe one another with a murderous passion. Through a series of court intrigues, Queen Anne hits upon the idea of bringing harmony to their corner of England by commanding the marriage of Simon Hawkesmoor and Ariel Ravenspeare.
From the royal court, action shifts to the Ravenspeare home, where we learn that young Ariel lives with her three wild and depraved brothers. Because of her brothers’ infamy, her life is somewhat circumscribed but she learns that both her isolation and her relative freedom are about to come to an end with the arrival of Simon Hawkesmoor for their wedding.
Having been raised on tales of the awful Hawkesmoors, Ariel is unsurprisingly less than thrilled by the prospect of marriage into that family. Her battle-scarred groom doesn’t exactly make her swoon at first sight either. However, the stage is set for what will become a primarily entertaining romance.
Jane Feather takes what sounds like a familiar historical plot trope, especially for earlier historicals, and tinkers with the usual plot points just enough to give it a hint of a subversive twist. We get the familiar war hero groom and his significantly younger bride. However, this time around, the groom truly is a gentleman and a gentle man – and the bride is no clueless virgin.
And then there’s the other woman. Upon learning of his required marriage, Simon breaks things off with his childhood friend and sometimes mistress, Helene. In many stories, this would set the stage for Helene to morph into an evil slut. But here she never does. Instead, she’s confident, wise and likable. As a reader, I could see why Simon loved her. She’s more than just a mere foil for the heroine’s innocent beauty; she’s an interesting character in her own right and I do hope she gets an HEA of her own someday. My heart ached for her as I realized what she lost.
While male leads in forced marriage scenarios often sweep onto the stage as conquering heroes and all-around alphaholes, Simon is quite the opposite. He comes across wise, strong and steady. He doesn’t swagger flamboyantly because he frankly doesn’t need to. He achieves his aims without destroying others or showing off his dominance over the heroine. For the most part, I rather liked him.
Ariel is a little more difficult. She’s spent her entire life under the collective thumb of her debauched brothers, but that hasn’t killed her tendency toward being headstrong. Thankfully, it also hasn’t deadened her wits or business sense. She’s not wise in all the ways of the world, but she has taught herself to run a business.
However, a lifetime of exposure to only the worst of men hasn’t taught Ariel to appreciate a good and decent man. At one point, Simon’s former mistress expresses frustration over Ariel’s treatment of Simon and how Ariel doesn’t realize what a treasure she has. I had to appreciate the scene. In many books, this would have been a prelude to eeeevil antics by The Other Woman. However, in Feather’s hands, one cannot help but nod along with Helene because she really is right. In her naivete, Ariel simply cannot grasp her husband’s worth.
Understanding and responding to goodness is a process for Ariel throughout the story. Her character arc does show growth, but I did still sometimes find her and Simon’s love story a little hard to believe because the mutual distrust morphs into something positive and more permanent a little abruptly.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed The Silver Rose. The story has great atmosphere, and I loved seeing what the author did with once-tired old tropes. The relationship timing is a little off and some of the secondary characters just didn’t do it for me, but I still enjoyed reading this novel.