Of One Heart (originally titled A Battle for Love) is the second in Cynthia Wright’s St. Briac series and was originally published in 1986. It’s set in Paris and London in 1532/3 and charts the romance between an English Marquess and the beautiful young French widow he is ordered to marry, sight unseen. I am a big fan of the arranged marriage trope, and given I’m a bit of a Francophile to boot, I thought I’d find much here to enjoy. Sadly, however, I found a dull story that is stretched out for far too long, a couple of cardboard cut-out protagonists, a romance that isn’t particularly romantic and an ending so ridiculous that I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It’s largely thanks to the engaging performance by Tim Campbell that I was able to make it to the end without falling asleep.
Beautiful widow, Micheline de Tevoulaire, was inconsolable after the death of the husband she adored until she overhears some fellow courtiers discussing his womanising ways. Micheline is devastated to learn of this – she and Bernard had grown up together and she thought she knew him – and decides that love is a lie and that she is done with it. So when King François announces that she is to be sent to England to marry to the Marquess of Sandhurst, she agrees without protest. She’s never going to fall in love again so what does it matter whom she marries?
When Andrew Weston, Marquess of Sandhurst is informed by his father, the Duke of Aylesbury, that a marriage has been arranged between him and an unknown Frenchwoman, Sandhurst is not pleased. He and his father do not see eye-to-eye and it’s almost a matter of principle for Sandhurst to go against his father’s wishes, but with King Henry in favour of the match, it’s difficult for him to refuse. But he’s resolved to make his own choice, so he decides to go to the French court disguised as a lowly painter of portraits named Andrew Selkirk with a view to getting sight of his prospective bride before he makes his mind up one way of the other.
Fortunately, Sandhurst is a skilled artist. Lucky, that.
What we have here is a ‘hero-in-disguise’ romance, where the heroine doesn’t know the true identity of the hero while he knows who she is. Sandhurst is naturally delighted to discover that his would-be-betrothed is a very lovely young woman, and given that his first commission from King François is to paint her portrait, the pair are afforded plenty of time to get to know one another. Yet there is no sense that here are two people falling in love; we’re told rather than shown, the ILYs come almost out of the blue, and well before the halfway point in the book, so I was left wondering what on earth the remaining five hours would be about.
Not much, as it turned out.
The book moves at what I will charitably call a ‘leisurely pace’ anyway, but once Sandhurst and Micheline are in luuurve and in England preparing to marry, things grind almost to a halt and we are immersed in the minutiae of everyday life at King Henry’s court – down to the colours of doublet and trimming Sandhurst or the King are wearing and what Micheline feeds her horse. There are a few smallish hiccups along the path of Twu Wuv – the two-dimensional, evil former mistress, for example – although fortunately these aren’t allowed to drag on (if only the rest of the book hadn’t been allowed to do the same!), but otherwise all that happens is Andrew and Micheline mooning over each other and Micheline being repeatedly snubbed by practically everyone she meets. I started feeling sorry for the poor woman – wasn’t she ever going to be allowed to have even ONE friend in England?!
Around three-quarters of the way through, the author picks up a plotline for which she laid the foundation in the first half, namely that of a threat against Micheline’s life. She received an unpleasant note, which was followed at intervals by a couple of “accidents”, until finally, the baddie – the identity of whom is obvious from the beginning – concocts a plan to dispose of both Micheline and Sandhurst separately and in ways that (he hopes) will not call down suspicion on him. While there is perhaps a grain of plausibility in the scheme to get rid of Sandhurst, the rest is just silly.
Tim Campbell is recording quite a lot of historical romance these days, and I’m listening to him more frequently and generally enjoying his performances. He’s a talented narrator and vocal actor who delivers the narrative at a good pace and is able to imbue the dialogue with the right amount of expression and nuance. His character differentiation is excellent, and so are his female voices – they’re never too highly pitched and there is no hint of falsetto. His French-accented English is also very good – I am particularly fond of his interpretation of Gabriel St. Briac in this author’s The Secret of Love – and here he applies a French accent successfully and consistently to Micheline and other members of the French court. His interpretation of Sandhurst presents him as everything a romantic hero should be – attractive, authoritative and devoted to his lady, and while I’ve been critical of his English accent on several occasions – it’s very good but was marred by a number of consistent mispronunciations – I’m pleased to note that they have almost all been eliminated.
Unfortunately however, the material Mr. Campbell has been given to work with here is poor and even his strong performance isn’t enough to turn an essentially dull, uneventful story into something I can recommend.
Book Content: C-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Cynthia Challed
Of One Heart was provided to AudioGals by the narrator for a review.