Narrated by Alex Wyndham
I have enjoyed some of the earlier Roxton books on audio and Alex Wyndham in my ears is always a treat so I was happy to get the opportunity to review Proud Mary, the latest in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family Saga.
I admit I looked on the author’s website at the family tree to refresh my memory as to just who was who in relation to everyone else in the series. It’s a detailed family tree so I don’t feel guilty for needing the help!
In short however, Lady Mary Cavendish is the sister of Alisdair FitzStuart (the hero from Dair Devil which I also reviewed here). When the story begins, Mary has been the widow of the late Sir Gerald Cavendish for two years. Per the terms of Sir Gerald’s will, the estate is held in trust for his nephew Jack and managed jointly by the Duke of Roxton and Mr. Christopher Bryce of nearby Brycecomb Hall. Christopher was also named the sole legal guardian of Sir Gerald’s and Mary’s daughter, Theodora (aka Teddy). Christopher attends at the Abbeywood estate for two days a fortnight to undertake steward duties on behalf of the estate.
Christopher has been in love with Mary since he first laid eyes on her eight years earlier. Of course, she was then married to a very much alive Sir Gerald so he could not and would not act on his feelings. However, now that sufficient time has passed and even though he knows he is but a mere “mister” and not of the nobility like Mary, he decides to take his chance at last. I did get a bit of whiplash with the speed that Christopher went from “I’m not good enough for her and we can never be together because I am so far below her on the social scale so I will not even try” to “I’m going for it anyway”. I was somewhat unprepared for their first kiss because at that stage, Mary hadn’t done very much mental lusting Christopher’s way so I wasn’t 100% sure his feelings were reciprocated.
Christopher has a number of skeletons in his closet, one of which is fairly unusual. I was a little surprised at least one of those skeletons didn’t present more of a barrier to the HEA, particularly given Mary’s extremely sheltered background.
The second half of the book includes a lot of Antonia and Jonathon (from Autumn Duchess) and fans of the series will be happy to see the safe arrival of their surprise baby (Antonia is 50). I didn’t mind that Antonia and Jonathon took up so much of the story but it did dilute the impact of what was going on with Christopher and Mary who were worthy characters in their own right.
There were a couple of plot holes which bothered me, the first of which relates to Antonia’s baby.
“Because, love of my life, a Scottish dukedom is not an English dukedom. An English dukedom requires the title to pass down through the male line, so a son is necessary. But a Scottish dukedom stipulates that the title pass to the heirs of my body. Male or female is not stipulated, so if a duke— me— has an only child who is a daughter, she will inherit, and be the next Duchess of Kinross, and then it is her son who will inherit after her. Now that’s clever! So you, my love, wife to not one but two dukes, and mother of a duke, should you give birth to a female infant, will also be mother of a daughter who will one day be a duchess in her own right.”
Now, Sarah-Jane, Jonathon’s daughter from his first marriage is still alive (albeit she is living in France with her husband who is apparently a traitor to the Crown). It’s unclear to me whether Charles’s status is publicly known or not – certainly the family do not seem to have suffered any fallout because of it. In any event, given Jonathon has a living daughter already, I was confused as to why she was ineligible to inherit and as to why he refers to the coming baby as an “only child”. There was nothing in the book to explain this.
There was another issue; the spy who is exposed later in the story is said to have had opportunity to meet with Sir Gerald by an activity which only occurred after Sir Gerald was dead. I was unclear on how Sir Gerald and the spy had regular contact with one another and the story did not explain it in a way that made sense to me.
The spy subplot wasn’t particularly essential to the story – much of the action happened off page and even more was not mentioned at all. I think it was likely mainly there to introduce a particular character who is the catalyst for various changes in Mary’s and Christopher’s relationship.
While I liked Mary and Christopher very much, there was a lot of telling in the story and not so much showing. There were times when the characters went into laborious explanations of things which were obvious (and I freely admit I don’t do subtle well. So, if *I* think they’re obvious…). These explanations had the effect of disrupting the flow of the story and I became impatient to get to the meat of it.
Mary and Christopher are lovely characters however and I did enjoy spending time with them. Ms. Brant writes intimate scenes well so here is the part where I again lament that she stops with any detail, literally at the point of penetration. Up until then there are not-very-explicit but nonetheless sensual and intimate scenes of foreplay (even a bit of oral sex!) but then it all stops. I wish it wouldn’t. Ms. Brant’s books are neither fade-to-black nor explicit. They exist in a strange no-mans-land somewhere in between. It’s not at all that I want her books to be sexed up. I just would like to stay in the scene a little longer – to, er, completion, if you will.
The narration, of course, was sublime. Alex Wyndham is a pleasure to listen to. I enjoy his vast array of character voices, male and female, young and old and the wide range of accents he employs. In fact, there was one line where Christopher was using his boyhood accent which I didn’t understand at all, the accent was that broad! (I was in the car so I didn’t have the chance then to rewind and relisten).
Mr. Wyndham brings something special to the story by his characterisations as well. From the querulous Countess of Strathsay (Mary’s mother) and the boorish Sir Gerald (briefly brought to life in reminiscences), to the childish excitement of Teddy’s adventures with Christopher’s dog, Lorenzo, each individual felt well-defined and complete to my ears.
While I had some problems with the story itself, Mr. Wyndham’s narration was so good I still listened to the entire 13 hours in only a few short days, cramming in opportunities wherever I could.
I think Henri-Antoine’s book is next. I’m in.
TITLE: Proud Mary
AUTHOR: Lucinda Brant
NARRATED BY: Alex Wyndham
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in, but at the tame end
REVIEWER: KaetrinBuy Proud Mary by Lucinda Brant on Amazon EXCERPT: