The Virgin of Clan Sinclair
This is the third book in Ms Ranney’s Clan Sinclair trilogy of novels set in Victorian Scotland. I haven’t read the previous two books, but this works perfectly well as a standalone; anyone who has read the others will no doubt be pleased to note that the couples from those books appear in secondary roles in this one. The Virgin of Clan Sinclair is entertaining enough, but possesses two or three rather large flaws which prevent me from rating it more highly.
Ellice Traylor has spent her entire life in the shadow of her older and utterly perfect sister Eudora. Even though Eudora has sadly passed away, Ellice’s mother continues to compare Ellice unfavourably, never letting her forget that she is a huge disappointment; her behaviour and deportment are not as good as Eudora’s and while there would have been no problem finding her beautiful sister a husband, Ellice’s plain brown hair and brown eyes will make it much more difficult to attract an eligible suitor.
Ellice is obviously tired of her mother’s strictures, but finds herself obeying them because it’s too difficult and would cause too much of an uproar to attempt to go against them. But she rebels in secret, having penned a scandalous erotic novel entitled The Lustful Adventures of Lady Pamela, in which the eponymous heroine details many varied sexual encounters and the course of her relationship with the love of her life.
Now, this was something I found very difficult to credit – that a well-born virgin in the 1870s could possibly have gained enough knowledge from reading Tom Jones, Fanny Hill and listening to servants’ gossip to have written erotica that was not only anatomically accurate, but which people who were sexually experienced could find arousing – and which could cause the hero to decide that Ellice can’t possibly be a virgin. It’s obvious that Ellice has a very passionate nature and is naturally curious about the whole business of what goes on in the bedroom, and it’s stated often that she has a very vivid imagination. But I still can’t believe that a young woman brought up under the strict social and moral mores of the Victorian era could have come up with such a thing almost entirely from her imagination. The Victorians were prudes when it came to young women of the upper classes, and while it’s an undisputed fact that prostitution was rife at this period, the double standards applied to the women men married and the ones they used for sex were massive; women in the former category were sheltered and kept in a state of ignorance when it came to matters of sexuality. I’ve always thought erotica must be challenging to write well, even for people who know what they’re writing, and the idea that a virgin could conjure up those ideas and, more importantly, describe the feelings experienced during sex just didn’t wash for me.
Ross Forster, Earl of Glasden, is an upright, rather stuffy young man who is doing his best to restore his family name and pull it up from beneath the huge pile of scandal heaped upon it as a result of his father’s reputation as a man who would shag anything in a skirt. Determined not to fall prey to his passions in the manner his father did, Ross has worked diligently to restore his family’s fortune and now spends most of his time overseeing his massive estates, and campaigning for his election as Representative Peer. Obviously, he’s never heard the expression about all work and no play…
His initial meeting with Ellice – she had attempted to stow away in his carriage with the intention of escaping her mother and taking her book to Edinburgh for publication – is an inauspicious one, and one, I confess that tempted me to throw my Kindle at the wall! Their verbal sparring isn’t so much banter as it was a series of unending questions and evasion that became irritating very quickly. I realise that deflecting unwanted questions by asking more questions is a character trait for both Ellice and Ross, but that exchange made me want to spit!
Another issue I had with the storyline was when Ross insists on trying to prevent publication of Ellice’s book because of the fact he bears a resemblance to the hero, and that anyone reading it would immediately assume it was based on a real love-affair between him and Ellice. It’s not that I wondered at his attitude given his circumstances – it’s because a) the idea of Ellice publishing the book under her own name didn’t make sense – it would have ruined her socially, and b) details of the hero’s appearance could be easily altered.
In spite of my criticisms, I didn’t dislike the book. After suspending my disbelief at Ellice’s ability to write an erotic novel, I found her to be an engaging heroine who just wanted to live her own life and to be able to express herself on her own terms. She’s clever, funny and one of those people who, on finding what she wants, throws herself into it headlong, even though that may not perhaps be the wisest course. I liked that she isn’t missish or backward about letting Ross know she desires him and that’s she’s not afraid to challenge his behaviour towards her.
When he isn’t acting as though he has a poker up his arse, Ross is considerate and has an attractive, playful side that is quite delightful, but he doesn’t do himself any favours when he prejudges Ellice at the beginning of the story, and again later, when he abruptly and hurtfully distances himself from her.
The book is well written and paced for the most part, although I was frustrated by those sections in which Ellice drifted off and began to think in terms of how her heroine would act in this or that situation, and began basically to “write” in her head, because it disturbed the flow. It’s not an infrequently used device, and with the longer passages, I confess I was tempted to skip them because I wanted to get back to the actual story.
The hero and heroine are strongly characterised, and I enjoyed the way the author revealed the similarities between them gradually as their relationship developed. I’m a fan of “compromised-into-marriage” plots, and that aspect of the novel was nicely done.
Overall, The Virgin of Clan Sinclair passed the time enjoyably, and anyone who has read the other books in the trilogy probably won’t want to miss it. If you’re new to the series, perhaps it isn’t the best way to make the acquaintance of the Clan Sinclair.