Thief of Dreams
Mary Balogh’s new book Thief of Dreams is an historical novel set in the Georgian period. When the book begins, Cassandra Havelock is preparing to celebrate her twenty-first birthday, come out of mourning for her father, take her place as mistress of Kedelston, and assume the title, Countess of Worthing. She has no pressing need to marry and has every intention of enjoying herself and being independent.
As Cassandra prepares for a grand party to celebrate her coming of age, Nigel Wetherby, Viscount Wroxley comes by the estate. He introduces himself as a friend of Cassandra’s father. Cassandra had loved her father very much and is eager to hear Nigel’s stories of him. Cassandra invites Nigel to stay and he dances with her at the birthday ball. Nigel is rich, handsome, and very, very charming. Cassandra immediately loses her heart to him and marriage begins to look like a good thing.
To the shock and surprise of her relatives, Cassandra marries Nigel after having known him for only a week. On their wedding night, Cassandra discovers her new husband has a badly scarred back from savage whippings inflicted some time in the past. Nigel tries to pass it off as a remnant of whippings he had received from his father and at school, but he is clearly covering up something.
The extent of the wrongs done to Nigel is revealed over the course of the story. These involve secrets from Cassandra’s family history and go back to the time of her great grandfather. These secrets threaten not only Cassandra’s marriage, but her very identity and position as the Countess of Worthing.
Nigel is a wonderful, tortured hero, a man who had been a wild youth and who had been cruelly wronged because of his bad reputation. His suffering has brought him maturity, but he is afraid to love and trust. Cassandra is a woman who also has been wronged, not only by Nigel, who married her under false pretenses, but by her ancestors as well. It says much for her strength of character that she is able to see that Nigel is a victim of the past, and to forgive and love him with all her heart, for he is fundamentally a lovable man.
Thief of Dreams has a complicated plot which is handled with the utmost deftness. The only complaint I had was with a secondary romance between two of Cassandra’s cousins, Rob and Patience. This sub-plot did not develop the overall theme of the book – the redemptive power of love – and the characters just did not interest me. Yet, there is another romantic sub-plot involving Nigel’s valet/bodyguard, William Stubbs, that does develop this theme. Stubbs is a former prisoner – big, bald, blind in one eye and very ugly. This ugly exterior hides a man with a kind and protective nature. When Stubbs falls in love with a poor, abused little serving maid at the local tavern, it leads to a romance that is sweet and touching.
Along with most readers of romances, I will miss Mary Balogh’s Regencies, but if she continues to write historical novels of the caliber of Thief of Dreams, I will be somewhat mollified.