Narrated by James Langton
Daniel’s True Desire is the second book in Grace Burrowes’ True Gentlemen series, although the series title is perhaps a bit of a misnomer as the books are in fact linked by virtue of the fact that the heroines are the sisters of Nicholas Haddonfield, Earl of Bellefonte. Regardless of that, however, I found it to be the strongest of the series when I read it a couple of years back, and I was keen to experience it again in audio format. As is the case with most of Grace Burrowes’ oeuvre, this story features several characters who have appeared in other books, most notably David, Lord Fairly and his wife Letty (Daniel’s sister), Nicholas and his wife Leah, and Daniel himself, who appeared in David’s book, wherein we discovered he was unhappily married to a woman (Olivia) who stole from him and his parish, and who was blackmailing his sister by threatening to expose the fact that the five-year old boy she and Daniel have brought up as their son is, in fact, Letty’s son, the result of a youthful indiscretion.
As this story opens, the Reverend Daniel Banks is travelling to his new living in the village of Haddondale. He is a very troubled man, still reeling from the recent revelations about the deceptions practiced by his wife – who has now disappeared – struggling with his feelings of discontent and guilt over his inability to protect his sister from Olivia’s machinations, and worst of all, heartsick at his parting from his ‘son’, Danny, who, now that her circumstances allow her to properly care for him, has now gone to live with his mother and her new husband. Daniel is at a very low point, dedicated to his calling but feeling somewhat restricted by it, and unable to see a way out of his present difficulties. Olivia may have taken herself off temporarily, but it can surely only be a matter of time before she is back and making more trouble.
Brooding on his problems and delayed by inclement weather, Daniel loses his way and finds himself at the door of one of the village residents rather than the vicarage. Stopping to ask for assistance, he is confronted by a tall, blonde dynamo of a woman who introduces herself as the earl’s sister, Lady Kirsten Haddonfield. After plying him with tea and bread and butter, she accompanies him to the vicarage and then, after discovering its state of disrepair, marches him off to dinner with her brother and sister-in-law.
Kirsten Haddonfield is brusque, brutally honest and capable of organising herself and everyone around her with almost military precision. She is also, as Daniel comes to realise, a bit of a grouch, a description with which she doesn’t argue. At present, her burdens are many; she has taken over the numerous estate duties performed by her sister, Nita, prior to her marriage, and is helping her youngest sister, Della, prepare for her first Season. The preparations are dredging up unhappy memories and reminding Kirsten of her two broken engagements and the insincere, posturing gentlemen she had believed were genuinely interested in her – and weren’t. Knowing how cruel society can be, Kirsten is also very worried for Della who, unlike the other Haddonfield siblings is small and dark haired – and is widely believed to be a cuckoo in the nest. And on top of her responsibilities and other worries, Kirsten knows she is expected to travel to London with the rest of the family for the Season in the spring, and dreads it. She hates the superficiality of London society and inwardly despairs at the prospect of ending up a subject of pity and gossip because she is still unmarried. She would much rather stay at home in the country where she can be active and useful than sit around in drawing rooms or waste her time dancing at balls.
Daniel and Kirsten are drawn to each other from the start, sensing that here is a kindred spirit, someone to whom life has not always been kind and who has learned to cope with disappointment. Daniel finds Kirsten’s bluntness refreshing and quickly learns to see through the surface bluster to the truly kind and compassionate woman underneath, while Kirsten is impressed by the handsome young vicar’s aura of quiet confidence and his strong good sense. Daniel finally discovers what it is to have a true helpmeet, someone to talk to about his day and with whom he can hold an intelligent discussion and exchange of ideas, and Kirsten blossoms as a result of Daniel’s genuine respect and admiration. Their mutual attraction grows steadily, but of course, there can be no happy ending for them; even if Daniel had the money and influence to obtain a divorce, he could not do so and retain his profession, which is his only means of income and thus supporting a wife.
It’s not a spoiler, given this is a romance, to say that the author does come up with a – quite unusual – way of solving Kirsten and Daniel’s difficulties, but there’s a lot more to enjoy in this story than just the bittersweet romance. Grace Burrowes’ talent for writing strong male friendships is very much in evidence once again, as Kirsten’s brother, Nicholas, and Daniel’s brother-in-law, David, bring him into the fold and rally round to support him when he really needs them. Such scenes are always a highlight of any of Ms. Burrowes’ books as she always invests these relationships with a strong sense of liking and mutual respect that is masked by lots of teasing and good-natured banter which make them are a delight to read. Also delightful is the relationship that Daniel forges with his small group of “rotten boys”, the unruly sons of some of the local gentry who come to “live in” with the vicar while they are receiving an education. They all come across as living, breathing children rather than precious moppets, and the way she shows the developing bonds between the boys and between the boys and Daniel is simply masterful.
James Langton does a very good job with his portrayals of all the boys, making them sound age-appropriate and giving each of them a distinct sound and personality. Daniel is every bit as dreamy as he is on the page; dedicated, quietly competent – there’s nothing as sexy as a man who knows what he’s doing! – and possessed of great strength of character and a playful sense of humour. Nicholas and David are very clearly delineated – Nicholas by means of a drop in pitch and a very hearty tone that suits a man of such large stature, while David’s dialogue is delivered using a jauntier manner and a very slight, aristocratic drawl. Mr. Langton’s female voices are solid, and the three Haddonfield ladies are easy to tell apart. He expertly depicts Kirsten’s occasional waspishness and also injects the right emotional notes into her speech without pushing the pitch too high. The technical aspects of his performance – such as diction and pacing – are excellent, and, as I’ve said before, his affinity for Ms. Burrowes’ sometimes quirky language is a real asset. It’s a small point, but I love the way he handles the characters’ asides and ‘notes-to-self’, really bringing out the irony and wry humour in them.
I enjoyed Daniel’s True Desire as much in audio as I did in print (possibly more, thanks to the excellent narration) although there is one plot point I’d take issue with, which, while not an uncommon one in historical romance, sees the seemingly unfixable becoming suddenly and magically fixed. But it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book overall, and I’d certainly recommend this poignant, emotionally satisfying and expertly narrated love story to others.
TITLE: Daniel's True Desire
AUTHOR: Grace Burrowes
NARRATED BY: James Langton
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: CazBuy Daniel's True Desire by Grace Burrowes on Amazon