Trapped at the Altar
Set in the waning days of Charles II’s reign, Trapped at the Altar could have been quite a book. Jane Feather makes great use of her setting, and some of the court intrigue and general unrest of the time had me engrossed and flipping pages. Unfortunately, this book is a romance and so we had to spend a lot of time with the central couple. They aren’t nearly as interesting.
As the book opens, a vulnerable confused young Ivor Chalfont is sent to live in Cornwall, where he is immediately befriended by Ariadne Carfax. Years pass, and upon the death of Ariadne’s grandfather, some less than welcome family plans are set in motion. The grandfather had intended Ariadne and Ivor to marry to unite feuding wings of the family, and Ariadne agreed only because (a) she had little choice and (b) she was one of the few people who could change dear grandpapa’s mind and so she figured she have time to wear him down. His death changes that and Ari’s unsympathetic uncle basically forces the marriage.
So, what does Ivor think of all this? Well, he’s basically on board with it because he’s loved Ari from afar for years. I guess he figures he’ll win her over because the fact that she doesn’t want the marriage doesn’t seem to stir much sympathy in him. He goes into the marriage aware that Ari is in love with another man and that she has taken him as a lover. On the one hand, he tells Ari he won’t consummate the marriage until he’s positive she isn’t pregnant with someone else’s child, but then he seems to think it’s okay to frequent prostitutes because hey, the guy has needs. Nice.
From the forced marriage, the story follows Ari and Ivor as they prepare to leave their remote valley to head to London. Their whole clan has been on the outs with the government for quite some time, and before his death, Ari’s grandfather had come up with a plan to restore the family to its rightful place. With Ari and Ivor married, there is now a pair with ties to both the Catholic and Protestant sides. With Protestant Charles II in ill health and his Catholic brother James likely to succeed, unrest is in the air. Whether James takes the throne or a Protestant contender steps in, the Chalfonts have letters of introduction and plans to cover either contingency. And the machinations at court make for interesting reading as Feather not only has a handle on the historical facts, but creates interesting characters and conveys the mood of general tension and unease very well. We get to see the wranglings at court, but also as the Chalfonts travel, we can see the effects on the rest of the country which is somewhat removed from palace intrigue.
If this book were historical fiction rather than romance, I suspect I would give it a much higher grade. However, as a romance, it just doesn’t quite work. For starters, one can tell that Ari starts off the book in love with another man. Even though she and Ivor settle into their marriage and start to build a relationship, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this would have been a better book if Ari had found a way to be with her first love rather than settling into the fate others chose for her.
The thought kept popping into my mind largely because Ari and Ivor together do not bring out the best in one another. Though things do get better by the end, Ari carries on like a spoiled brat for much of the book while Ivor alternately adores her and tries to boss her around. Like Ari, he does seem much nicer by the end. This is probably helped by the author showing off the weaknesses of Ari’s first love, a twist of plot that struck me as a bit of a copout.
As historical fiction, Trapped at the Altar takes on a fascinating time period and brings it to life. However, the romance felt exceedingly bland, so I just can’t recommend it.