Desert Isle Keeper
The Weaver Takes a Wife
Halfway through reading The Weaver Takes a Wife, I was tempted to stop and look again at the copyright notice, just to assure myself that I wasn’t reading a long-lost and recently rediscovered work of Georgette Heyer’s. This was a delightful read from start to finish, reminiscent of the writing that made me fall in love with Regencies all those years ago. A mismatched couple, a marriage of convenience, and a few twists to keep the audience on its toes add up to a thoroughly satisfying read.
Finding his coffers empty and creditors pressing ever closer, the Duke of Reddington all but sells his daughter Lady Helen Radney into marriage with Ethan Brundy, a wealthy but painfully provincial cotton-mill owner. Proud to a fault, Helen is furious with her father, but what can she do? It’s either marriage to Mr. Brundy, or life as a governess. She chooses the lesser – but not by much, in her opinion – of the two evils.
Ethan is madly in love with his wife, but is loath to force his attentions on her, so he promises not to touch her for the first six months of the marriage. At first this is fine with Helen, but as time passes and she comes to know more about him, she begins to perceive that in spite of his unrefined speech and terrible clothes, he’s more of a gentleman than many of the titled and privileged men who’ve surrounded her all her life. A kiss here, a shared confidence there, and she soon finds that she loves him, too, and longs for his touch. But before she can act upon her new knowledge, she becomes entangled in a web of lies and deceit that threatens their happiness together.
This is a wonderful Cinderella-in-reverse story, told with charm and skill. Helen’s sobriquet among the ton is the Ice Princess, but underneath her polish and practiced chill is a loving woman, one who cannot but be impressed by Ethan’s steadfast manner and the cheerful manner in which he accepts the insults she heaps on him in the beginning. He has no pretensions about himself: he knows who he is and where he came from, but he’s not stupid, either. He reacts in very unfashionable manner to overtures his wife receives from a former suitor, and to her surprise Helen finds she prefers it that way.
The settings, from Ethan’s mill in Lancashire to the opera at Covent Garden, are economically yet believably drawn. In a short book, dialogue serves a vital role, and here, it moves things along at a smart pace. Several times I laughed out loud when Ethan shocked Helen by actually saying something witty; wit is the last thing she expects in her husband, and it derails her attempts to hold him in contempt.
I did notice one major difference between this book and the Heyer’s I cut my teeth on, but I think it reflects a change in the readers, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. Gone are the long periodic sentences with multiple colons and semicolons; gone are the lines-long dense paragraphs, full of detailed descriptions and interior monologues. Yet Ms. South is able to tell the story in elegant fashion, telegraphing all the necessary information using a sort of shorthand, and nothing is lost. The experience is less like reading Jane Austen and more like reading a 200-page series romance, where the author has only so many words to tell her story. And this is a remarkable skill in and of itself.
Occasionally, among the books that cross my path, I find an unexpected gem, a diamond that shines among the pearls. The Weaver Takes a Wife is headed for my keeper shelf, right next to A Civil Contract, as a wonderful story of opposites coming together, of learning to appreciate loyalty and love more than social position and pedigree. Brava, Ms. South! I’ll be on the lookout for other titles by this deserving literary descendent of the grandmother of Regencies.