Vying for the Viscount
A nice and mild-mannered romantic comedy with a tender aura of Christian warmth, Vying for the Viscount is well-researched and humanist in its description of life in just-post Victorian England.
Hudson – the new Viscount Stildon – is less than happy with his position as firstborn son. Though he’s been prepared for the role all his life, when he’s called home from India –where he’s made a name for himself in the world of horse racing – he’s reluctant to leave in order to assume his new responsibilities. He soon sets about trying to fit into society, but England is not India, and he cannot grasp the new norms.
During his first day on the estate, Hudson bumps into his neighbor, Bianca Snowley, an amateur horse trainer who often exercises one of his horses. The fact that she’s a regular presence on the grounds is something Hudson only discovers after Bianca – having heard the stablemaster at Hawksworth gossiping about horse thieves – has attempted to apprehend him on the presumption that he’s stealing his own horse.
Embarrassed by her faux pas, Bianca tries to smooth things over, and the twosome forge a friendship from that awkward beginning. But Bianca soon learns that her cruel stepmother plans to arrange a marriage for her – mainly to get her out of the way – so that her own daughter may make an advantageous match. Desperate to enter into an engagement before that happens, Bianca turns to Hudson for help.
They strike a bargain. Bianca will tutor Hudson in the ways of proper English behavior, and Hudson will introduce her to some eligible fellows of his acquaintance. Hudson soon enters into the race for the hand of an eligible young miss whose dowry includes the title to a valuable racehorse, while Bianca is courted by the kind but dull Sir Rigsby. But Bianca and Hudson are drawn together – both by God’s greater plan for them and their commonalities. Can they ever find happiness?
I liked Bianca and Hudson, both of whom are genuinely good people, the former constantly trammeled by her stepmother but never living in total submission to her. Her relationship with her half-sister Marianne is quite sweet. Hudson is a thoroughly decent man, unafraid to show weakness and unafraid to ask questions. Their mutual obsession with horses never overtakes the book entirely, but it will likely help if you like equines as much as they do if you’re to like this book. And I definitely have to give Hunter kudos for not exotifying Hudson’s time in India, though points off for the book’s lack of characters of Indian descent either in major or minor roles. I’m getting tired of books that take place during the British Colonial period that involve only white, British characters – and Hudson, perhaps somewhat unrealistically, does not have any close friends from the country he called home for years.
Aaron Witworth, a friend Hudson makes in England, is without a doubt my favorite character in the story, a sage-like delight who offers Hudson much counsel (and will be the hero of the next in the series, Winning the Gentleman).
The book handles its examination of faith well. Hudson has lapsed in his beliefs during his time in India, feeling rudderless, friendless and lost, but Bianca brings him back into contact with both the Bible and the Church. Bianca, meanwhile, attends regularly, finding spiritual comfort in a world where her socialite stepmother cannot do her harm. Her beliefs bring her into occasional social conflict with her peers as they indulge in semi-scandalous behavior that would barely raise the eyebrow of most Regency heroines.
But I was irked by one part of the story; Bianca’s frustrated love for her father. Though she adores him, he holds himself apart from her, allowing his second wife to raise his children and indoctrinate Marianne and Bianca with the notion that Bianca’s biological mother was lower class and unloved by him, as well as treating Bianca like a second class citizen in her own household. This drags on for the whole book, with Bianca the perpetual Cinderella, until – at last – a climactic scene exposes her stepmother’s true character. We’re to believe Snowley is loving, and it’s understandable that a father of this era wouldn’t know what was going on with his children, but it felt somewhat unrealistic that he’s never heard about his class-conscious second wife gossiping about his first wife’s heritage, behavior and social standing.
Vying for the Viscount does a great job of transporting and integrating the reader into the horsey set, and aside from the daddy-based blemish mentioned above, it truly does work as a good combination of Austen-like social comedy, mannered romance and inspirational fiction.