Narrated by Alex Wyndham
Midnight Marriage is the second book in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family saga, but is the first of them to be made available in audio. It works perfectly well as a standalone, and the good news is that the other books, all of them narrated by the hugely talented Alex Wyndham (squee!), will be released in the coming months.
The book opens with the Midnight Marriage of the title. Twelve-year-old Deborah Cavendish is roused from sleep, drugged and taken to her brother’s study, where she is faced by her brother Gerald and two older men she does not know, one of whom is obviously a man of some consequence. She is sleep-fogged and the effects of the drug are addling her wits, but she is sensible enough to understand that she is about to be married to someone she has never met. A very drunk, very angry boy a few years her senior is dragged into the room and the ceremony begins.
We then skip ahead almost a decade, to a forest somewhere near Bath where Deb and her young nephew, Jack, have snuck out of the house in order to practice their violas because Gerald can’t bear the noise. Jack is the son of Deb’s other brother, Otto, a talented musician and composer who was cast out from the family when he chose to pursue his career on the Continent and made an unsuitable marriage. When, aged sixteen, Deb travelled to Paris to care for Otto in the time leading up to his death, she risked censure and ruin, but her family name and her wealth have ensured that she is still welcomed by all but the highest sticklers in society.
During their practice session, Jack literally stumbles across a badly wounded gentleman who has clearly been in a sword-fight. Deb sends Jack for assistance and then tends to the man as best she can until help arrives. Over the next few days, Deb’s thoughts keep returning to her mysterious duellist, but without a name or knowing where he was taken, she has to resign herself to the fact that she will never be able to find him again.
Meanwhile, Julian, Marquess of Alston and heir to the powerful Duke of Roxton has returned to England under a cloud. He has been accused by one Monsieur Lefevbre – a man of influence in the French government – of seducing his daughter and then refusing to marry her. Lefevbre is bringing a lawsuit for breach of promise against Julian, and things got even uglier when he and his two sons followed Julian from Paris to England and then attempted to kill him. Alston has a reputation for wildness – he’s known to be a womaniser and a gambler, but Lefevbre is adamant that he must marry his daughter.
The biggest problem with that, of course, is that Julian is already married. Knowing of his son’s contrary nature and fearing he would marry an unsuitable woman simply to spite him, the Duke of Roxton arranged a marriage with a well-connected, well-dowered young lady of good birth and saw the union solemnised before sending his son off on his Grand Tour. Julian is now ready to claim his bride and do his duty, but his return to London was delayed by the attack upon him. He is staying with his godfather, Martin Ellicott, to recuperate, and is surprised when Martin tells him that he is acquainted with Deborah and will arrange for them to meet. Martin also reminds him that Deb has no recollection of their marriage and that both families decided to allow her to remain in ignorance of it until Julian’s return from the Continent.
Julian is both astonished and relieved to discover that he is married to the enchanting young woman who bound his wounds in the forest. He can’t believe his luck, for not only is Deb very beautiful, she is compassionate, vivacious and witty.
Given the state of his reputation and the lawsuit hanging over his head, Julian determines to woo and win her as simple Mr Julian Hesham. Deb was forced to wed him all those years ago, and now he wants her to have at least some semblance of a choice. He hopes that he will be able to gain her affection before he has to reveal the truth of his identity and that by that time, she will love him enough to be able to understand his reasons for the deception and forgive him.
Obviously, Julian hasn’t read enough romantic novels, otherwise he’d have known he was just asking for trouble!
While the story proceeds very much as one would expect – complete with a determined rival suitor and a years-old enmity that once again threatens Julian’s life – that’s no bad thing, because Ms Brant has created a couple of engaging and attractive characters in her two leads, and I very much wanted to find out how they would work through their difficulties and get together in the end. Deb is intelligent and independent of spirit, but isn’t one of those curl-tossing heroines who is contrary for the sake of it. Her reaction to the sudden disclosure of her husband’s true identity is perhaps a little over the top, but given the way she finds out and his reaction afterwards, I can certainly understand why she’d be so upset.
Julian is a wonderful hero, handsome, witty and sexy, who shows himself time and again to be steady and reliable – a complete contrast to the rumours that continually circulate about him. He comes to care deeply for Deb, and is more than a little hurt that she would listen to gossip rather than rely on what she has come to know of the man she has married.
Alex Wyndham once again gives a wonderfully accomplished and entirely captivating performance that only serves to confirm the opinion I formed when listening to Deadly Engagement. He never puts a foot wrong and I really can’t find a single thing to criticise. Every character is distinctly voiced according to age and situation, and I continue to be impressed with his portrayal of the females, who never sound squeaky or too high-pitched. His performance of the Duchess of Roxton is especially good, as she is French and therefore speaks English with a distinct accent. Mr Wyndham expertly steers clear of caricature and gives her an attractive gallic lilt which perfectly defines her as a woman of both good sense and elegance.
My favourite interpretation of a secondary character is that of the Duke of Roxton, a man in his seventies, but whose resonant tone, while gravelly and definitely indicating his advanced years, is nonetheless indicative of a man of great authority (I’m very much looking forward to listening to his story in Noble Satyr). There are two young boys in the story, Deb’s nephew Jack and his friend Henri (Harry), who is Julian’s much younger brother. Both boys are easily distinguishable from each other, and when, in the epilogue, they appear as teenagers, they sound exactly that – they’re no longer young boys, but don’t yet have the deeper tones of men.
As with most audio romances, the portrayal of the hero is key to the listener’s enjoyment, and all I can say is that while Julian is an attractive hero on paper, in audio, he’s to die for. Mr Wyndham deepens his natural speaking voice very slightly – which serves to make a good distinction between dialogue and narrative – to portray him and imbues him with a great deal of warmth and humour. As for the more romantic moments… the love scenes in the story are by no means explicit, but it’s quite possible that my knees weakened on at least two occasions.
As is obvious, I really enjoyed listening to Midnight Marriage. Ms Brant has delivered a nicely character-driven romance that doesn’t rely on silly misunderstandings or lots of external conflict to drive the story forward. Alex Wyndham’s performance is simply outstanding, and I am utterly delighted to think that I am going to have very great pleasure of listening to him narrating more audiobooks.
It’s official – my top three (Boulton, Landor, Reading) has now become a Fab Four ;-)
Book Content: B+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in – but very tame
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Springleaf PTY Ltd.
Midnight Marriage was provided to AudioGals for a review.