Narrated by Alex Wyndham
The Marigold Chain is one of Stella Riley’s earliest published works, and, as it’s a long-time favourite of mine, I’ve been waiting not-at-all patiently for it to make an appearance in audiobook format. I first read it in the mid-1980s and loved it; for me, it ticks all the boxes. A brilliant, gorgeous, sharp-tongued hero enters into a marriage of convenience with a practical, quick-witted heroine who doesn’t take any of his crap; set that against the backdrop of the politics and intrigue-laden Restoration court of Charles II, and you’ve got another winner from a writer who really knows how to put the historical into historical romance while at the same time creating a tender, sensual love story. With the exceptionally talented Alex Wyndham once more at the microphone, there’s no question The Marigold Chain is a fabulous audio experience – so just sink into your favourite chair, lock the door, take the phone off the hook and let the world look after itself for a few hours while you get stuck in!
Alex Deveril has been a soldier for his entire adult life. When aged just fifteen, he fought alongside his father for the Royalist cause, and after the defeat of Charles II’s forces and his subsequent exile, Alex made his living as a mercenary, fighting in various European wars. With the restoration of the monarchy, Alex had expected his family’s home and lands to be returned to him, but thanks to the machinations of his father’s younger brother – a man who didn’t decide which way to jump until the outcome was certain – Alex has been left with nothing but a dingy house in Southwark and an arsenal of skills he is unable to use now that Europe is enjoying a period of (relative) peace.
With nothing to occupy him and no means of earning a living, Alex has become increasingly bitter and immeasurably bored, his days filled with reckless exploits and hard drinking. When the woman he (thinks he) loves tells him she is marrying another – very wealthy – man, Alex heads immediately for the bottle and starts the process of getting very, very drunk. While in this state, he visits the house of James Ashton, where the brandy is free-flowing (and dreadful) and there is deep play to be had. Sinking deeper and deeper into his cups, Alex finds he can’t lose at whatever game of chance he plays – and when Ashton, desperate to win back the money he has lost, stakes his sister – and her dowry of eight-hundred-pounds – Alex is drunk enough to accept without a qualm.
Learning she has been staked in a dice game, Chloe Herveaux – Ashton’s half-French half-sister – doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. And when Alex wins, she calmly agrees to leave her brother’s household that very night – she has no wish to remain there any longer and risk the same thing happening again. She, Alex and a couple of his drinking buddies leave the house, upon which Alex promptly insists on finding a parson so that he and Chloe can be married. Chloe, who had intended to stay with friends while she works out what to do next, is horrified and tries to talk Alex out of it, but he won’t hear any argument and the deed is done.
Waking with a hangover of Biblical proportions the next morning, Alex is vaguely surprised to discover he’s slept on the floor and that a young woman is sitting there with him, offering him a tisane for his thumping headache. He’s completely unprepared for the discovery that the two of them are married, but listens closely when his new wife suggests they seek an annulment. Alex points out that it may take some time, but as neither of them is in a hurry, they agree to remain married in name only until the legal formalities can be finalised.
The story unfolds over several months, during which Chloe becomes part of Alex’s household, his friendship group, and his life in a subtle and unobtrusive way. She builds relationships with Alex’s manservant, Matt, and with his close friends, Giles Beckwith and Daniel Fawsley, although Alex himself remains aloof and somewhat enigmatic. These friendships are all wonderfully drawn; Ms. Riley always excels at writing close male friendships, and I loved the way that Chloe is so thoroughly accepted and drawn into their circle. At the same time, Alex begins to realise that the young woman he has married is lovely, intelligent, determined and compassionate; he starts to value her advice and to actively seek it, her no-nonsense approach earning his respect and – ultimately – friendship.
Theirs is a slow-burn love story that builds slowly but surely in a very subtle way. From friendship, Alex and Chloe develop a camaraderie born of like-minds, shared interests and a shared sense of humour, until neither can imagine their lives without the other in it – but how can one of them hold the other in a marriage it seems they don’t want?
Alex is one of those heroes who, in the hands of a lesser author, could have been easy to dislike, but fortunately, while he’s definitely difficult, Ms. Riley makes him into a compelling and attractive character. He’s fiercely intelligent, handsome, and – when he wants to be – extremely charming; but he’s also, to paraphrase Chloe, got a tongue that could start a small war, and is prone to using it to say hurtful things in a deliberate attempt to push people away. Yet he also knows how to say exactly the right thing in a difficult situation and is loyal and honourable to a fault. And clever, pragmatic Chloe is perfect for him. She gives as good as she gets in verbal exchanges and doesn’t hesitate to call him out on his bad behaviour. She’s supportive and insightful, saving Alex from himself on more than one occasion, and the chemistry between them, while it builds gradually, is undeniable.
Now here I am, faced with the prospect of finding something new to say about narrator Alex Wyndham. Anyone familiar with his work will already know that he’s an exceptionally talented vocal actor whose performances are always highly accomplished and most enjoyable, and that his ability to get into the heads of the characters and accurately convey their motivations and emotions is absolutely first-rate. He’s superb when it comes to conveying his namesake’s acerbic wit and blistering put-downs; wonderful at getting across Alex’s rarely-seen vulnerability in a most memorable scene near the end in which he manages to put his foot firmly in his mouth; and just as good at giving Chloe a no-nonsense, down-to-earth air while also letting us hear the truth of her feelings for her unpredictable husband. The secondary cast – Matt (a bluff northerner), Giles and Danny are all clearly differentiated and easy to tell apart, and Mr. Wyndham’s portrayal of His Majesty, King Charles II – who makes a few cameo appearances – is a nicely judged balance of gravitas and humour.
Superbly written and expertly narrated, The Marigold Chain is an utter delight from start to finish. Needless to say, it’s highly recommended.
TITLE: The Marigold Chain
AUTHOR: Stella Riley
NARRATED BY: Alex Wyndham
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: 2
REVIEWER: CazBuy The Marigold Chain by Stella Riley on Amazon