Valentine's Change of Heart
Valentine Wharton was last seen in Captain Cupid Calls the Shots, when he was struggling with drink and more than a little in love with the heroine. Now he’s sobered up and starring in a book of his own with a Jane Eyre-ish vibe; he’s a sardonic, enigmatic employer in love with his daughter’s quiet governess. Despite its somewhat slow pace, it’s a book I enjoyed, thanks in no small part to Fairchild’s engaging writing style.
Valentine has managed to stay away from liquor for some time, and much of his resolve stems from a desire to be a good father to his illegitimate daughter, Felicity. As the book opens, he takes Felicity away from a boarding school (where she is often the target of sly, cutting remarks on her parentage) and begins a journey to Wales. Coincidentally, Felicity’s favorite teacher, Miss Elaine Deering, is dismissed from the school on the same day. Elaine has recently escaped a bad situation with an employer who tried to take advantage of her. Not satisfied with her flight, he wants to take away her career options so she will be forced to become his mistress. Valentine offers Elaine a position as governess. She refuses, but agrees to travel with his party for a time since she has no other options.
Elaine is not sure that Valentine can be trusted. Her father was a drunkard who gambled away the family fortunes, and she’s heard plenty of gossip about Valentine. But as they journey together, she becomes convinced that he is kind and honorable. Although he treats her brusquely and makes the occasional outrageous comment, he’s nothing liker her former employer. She decides that it’s safe to stay on with Valentine, even if her own feelings for Valentine are becoming a little dangerous. They share a rapport and a mutual love for Felicity.
Valentine returns Elaine’s affections and finds himself given to inappropriate thoughts about her. He wouldn’t dream of taking advantage of her like her former employer, but he doesn’t really see marriage as a possibility. Everyone else seems to discourage the match also. Everyone from Valentine’s mother to his former love Penny gets in on the action, roundly discouraging both of them from following their desires. It almost seems as though they are doomed to failure, but fortunately the reader knows that love will conquer all in the end.
Elisabeth Fairchild has a contemplative, melancholy style that I find charming. I just love the interesting ways she finds to describe the ordinary. Ordinarily I am not a big fan of nature descriptions, but she has a knack for painting visual pictures of the landscape. Toward the end of the book, she offers this description of a Welsh beach covered with gannets:
From a distance, Grassholm’s rounded black basalt crown looked rather like a pumpernickel bun dusted with flour and poppy seeds. Only the bread was alive. The flour dusting moved. Poppy seeds took wing. Rising walls of birds took flight, stirred by their approach, birds hanging black and white in the blue sky, above the acres of nesting birds. Thousands of birds. Hundreds of thousands. An awe-inspiring feathered movement.
The movement of the gannets as they dive into the water is compared to the leap of faith required for one to fall in love. The book is full of this type of thoughtful, meaningful description.
Valentine and Elaine are both thoughtful people, and the reader is privy to both of their thoughts about the choices they’ve made in life and their feelings for each other. Valentine has demons that haunt him from his service in the war. He’s concerned about his relationship with his daughter and is constantly trying to win her trust. Elaine has also had a troubled past, with a wastrel father and the former employer with the wandering hands. But even though they have suffered in the past, neither of the main characters comes off as whiny. Thoughtful and a little melancholy, but never annoying.
The only real problem I had with the book is that it was a bit too paced at times, and almost verged on plodding around the middle. At times I wished for a little less thought and a little more action or conversation. This was somewhat exacerbated by the length of the book. Like most traditional Regencies, it’s just over two hundred pages. Some additional scenes could have fleshed out the book more. This is particularly true of the end, which unlike the middle was a little rushed.
It should also be noted that I am the only reviewer at AAR to give Fairchild a grade higher than a C+. Prose that comes across as haunting and delicate to me strikes others as just plain dreary. If you’re a Regency fan who hasn’t tried Fairchild, I encourage you to do so; maybe you’ll be hooked by her prose at well. Valentine’s Change of Heart isn’t a bad place to start, particularly if you enjoy governess books. You don’t have to read its predecessor to enjoy it (indeed, I haven’t read it yet myself). Also very enjoyable was Sugarplum Surprises, one of my favorite Regencies of 2001.