If you love good Georgian historical romances, you can’t miss this delightful novel by Lucinda Brant. Witty prose and well-researched context, skillfully drawn characters you’ll be captivated by, are the main features in her style . Salt Bride is my second read from Lucinda’s work - after Deadly Engagement - and I must thank her for hours of pure literary pleasure.
The story starts in medias res, and impressively so. The first pages are really tense with drama and you can't but sympathize with the heroine, Jane Despard , since the opening :
“The girl in the narrow wooden bed was in agony. Curled up in a ball, legs drawn up to her small breasts and thin arms wrappedtightly about her knees, her whole body shuddered with excruciating contractions. She had no idea if she had been in pain for five hours or twenty. Exhausted and bathed in sweat, her cotton nightshift with its little lace cuffs and pearl buttons had become twisted and tangled with the bed sheet. Both were soaked with blood”.
Jane risks her life in the hands of unscrupolous people who help her father , Sir Felix Despard, to get rid of an unwanted grandchild. Young Jane’s seducer abandoned her after promising marriage. Jane refused to reveal his name, her enraged father disowned and banned her from his life, so she is forced to accept Jacob Allenby’s help and to live a painful solitary life oppressed by the rich old merchant’s preaching sermons and his imposition on her of a secluded life in the country, her only rare visitor being Tom, Allenby’s nephew and her step-brother. Her reputation is tainted by living under the same roof with an unmarried man.
After four years both Sir Felix, Jane’s father, and Mr Allenby, her protector have died leaving dispositions which will bind Jane’s destiny.
Her father made the Earl of Salt swear he would marry his daughter on his death bed and Lord Salt had accepted. Mr Allenby demanded her marriage before Tom, his nephew and Jane's beloved step-brother, could inherit the money necessary to run his lands and property. To help Tom out of his impossibile financial situation, Jane accepts to marry any man who will propose to her.
On their first encounter, we learn that Lord Salt is not exactly “any man” and that that is not their exactly their first encounter. Jane is presented - by deferential Earl’s secretary, Mr Ellis - with a wedding agreement to sign which will turn her into Salt’s helpless prisoner. Will she sign it for Tom’s sake?
Once you are at this point of the plot, you want to know more, to understand more because the tension and the hardly hidden attraction you perceive between the two protagonists is highly contagious. So you quickly leaf through the pages of this gripping and greatly amusing romance to get relief to your curiosity, to know about Jane’s and Salt’s past and the real reasons for their choice to marry one another though neither wants. On your way, many incredibile well-depicted characters , including Salt’s loyal friend , Sir Antony Templestowe, and his beautiful proud sister Diana St. John , widow of another of Salt’s friends as well as mother of two lovely twins, Merry and Ron – the latter the Earl’s heir, since it seems the young nobleman is barren and doomed not to have children of his own.
Jane Despard is a strong-willed, brave heroine , whose undeniable beauty makes her the centre of the attention at any social gathering. But the reader will love her for her good temper, endless generosity and undeniable humbleness.
“The past four years had given Jane time to reflect on the folly of her impetuousness in allowing her heart to rule her head. The loss of her virtue and its tragic consequences had bestowed upon her father the right to cast her out of the family home, alone, friendless, and destitute. She had disgraced not only her good name but also her family’s honor. Jane did not blame her father for her disgrace, but she would never forgive him for what he had ordered done to her” (p. 17).
Lord Salt is … well, he is the quintessence of the Georgian romantic hero who comes on stage in all his pomp and gorgeousness. Meet him in Lucinda’s own words:
“Magnus Vernon Templestowe Sinclair, ninth Baron Trevelyan, eighth Viscount Lacey and fifth Earl of Salt Hendon, strode into the drawing room on the butler’s announcement and immediately filled the space with his presence. The papered walls and ornate plastered ceiling shrunk inwards, or so it seemed to Jane who had grown accustomed to the Allenbys, who were all short and narrow-shouldered. The Earl was neither. He was dressed in what Jane presumed to be the height of London elegance: A Venetian blue frockcoat with elaborate Chinoiserie embroidery on tight cuffs and short skirts; an oyster silk waistcoat that cut away to a pair of thigh-tight black silk breeches rolled over the knees and secured with diamond knee buckles; white clocked stockings encased muscular calves and enormous diamond encrusted buckles in the tongues of a pair of low heeled black leather shoes. Lace at wrists and throat completed this magnificent toilette. Yet, neither ruffled lace or expertly cut cloth could hide the well-exercised muscle in the strong legs or the depth of chest and width of shoulder. But he did not dominate by size alone. There was purpose in his stride, and when he took a quick commanding glance about the room the intensity in his brown eyes demanded that those who fell under his gaze pay attention or suffer the consequences of his displeasure (... )
Jane frowned and was embarrassed by her stepmother’s blatant flirting with this jaded nobleman who was obviously accustomed and thoroughly bored by the wiles of women who constantly threw themselves at him. When he turned his powdered head and stared straight at her, as if he was well aware she was taking full measure of his person, Jane was so startled to be caught out that she felt the heat rush up into her white throat. The fire burned more brightly in her cheeks when he had the bad manners to look her over, starting at her thick black braids caught up in a silver net at her shoulders, lingering on her breasts covered by a plain muslin bodice before traveling down the length of her petticoats to her matching silk slippers. When he frowned, as if she did not meet his expectations, Jane dared to put up her chin …” (pp.20-22)
As wicked as any great female villain can be in a novel, she’s the Earl’s cousin, Diana St. John. She married St. John, one of Lord Salt’s best friends. Now, after her husband’s death , Diana has been living in a fool’s paradise believing she would be the next Countess of Salt Hendon. She hates Jane Despard and will go to extreme lengths to hold the Earl’s attention, even risking her young son’s life. Removing Jane by any means possible, even murder, is a means to an end for the obsessive Diana.
Highly recommended for a fully pleasurable and completely romantic journey back to the past. Mind Lady St. John is not on your path! I told you once and I’m even more convinced:
"If you dream of a book with a gorgeous hero, thrilling emotions, romance and intrigue, wit and elegance, silk and powdered wigs, you won't be disappointed”! (from my review of DEADLY ENGAGEMENT)
One of you will soon have the pleasure of reading this beautiful romance. To be the lucky one, just leave a comment here adding your e-mail address, which will be indispensable for me to contact you. The winner will get the e-book version of Salt Bride directly from the author, Lucinda Brant. Of course, this giveaway is open internationally and ends on 20th August, when the name of the winner will be announced. Good luck!