I started reading Julianne Donaldson’s “Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance” as a nice bedtime story, but I found myself reading chapter after chapter…and not sleeping. Marianne’s mother died while riding and she feels indirectly responsible, but responsible, nonetheless. Part of that reason is because she is sent to live with her grandmother in Bath not long after, while Cecily, her twin, is sent to London to enjoy a season. Her father, in his grief, flees to France. Marianne misses her father and desperately wants to return home.
Grandmother wants Marianne to behave like an elegant young lady and not a wild child. She reminded me of Jane Austen’s Marianne Dashwood in “Sense & Sensibility.” Marianne has this insufferable older, slobbering goofball for an admirer who writes her terrible poetry. She’s too young and too gracious to tell him to leave her alone. (Matchmaking ensues later where he is concerned, much like Austen’s Emma.)
Marianne receives an invitation from Cecily to visit the Wyndham family’s country estate around the same time Grandmother receives word about her good-for-nothing nephew’s bad behavior. Her grandmother allows Marianne to go with an exception. Marianne is to learn lessons on how to act like an elegant young lady. If she doesn’t, then grandmother will drag her back to Bath to resume the lessons. She disinherits her nephew and makes Marianne her secret heir right before she leaves.
And that’s when a highwayman came riding into this story and I thought, “Wait. Didn’t I just read a story about a highwayman?” Yes, I sure did. Here is my review of Lady At Arms by Tamara Leigh. I won’t give away the action here, except to say it was less traumatic than “Lady At Arms.” Marianne and her maid Betsy came to the rescue of James, the coach driver. Girl power! She takes the reins and drives the coach to the safety of an inn where she meets a handsome stranger, Philip. This stranger becomes so much more, but I won’t spoil that for you.
Marianne is written as an ideal romance heroine. She is like a very clumsy Cinderella with her constant need to twirl (I understand that need. Look at Maria in Sound of Music. Who hasn’t felt the need to twirl?). She is self-sacrificing and wears her heart on her sleeve, even as she tries to conceal it.
Marianne believes her sister Cecily is as opposite to her as the sun and the moon, but now that I’ve read this book, I’ve come to wonder if that is true. To avoid sibling rivalry, Marianne reined in her desires and subjected them to a pattern of self-control, much like Elinor Dashwood in Austen’s Sense & Sensibility. Marianne learned to give way to whatever Cecily wanted over her own desires. She loved her sister and wanted to keep the peace.
Cecily either took her sister for granted or she let this pattern continue because of the benefits she received. She came across as patronizing when the twins reunited at the Wyndham estate, which made me want to slap her. But something changed in the weeks before Cecily returned to Wyndham. Marianne has had weeks without her sister. She was happier than she had been in some time. She made a new friend as well. Will she continue to give up precious things just because her sister wants them? Will she lay claim to the heart of the one she loves most? I won’t give that away.
I saw negative reviews on Goodreads after reading this and was kind of surprised. This is Julianne’s first novel, so I was prepared to cut her some slack already. But seriously, I have read books by other Regency fiction writers, like Georgette Heyer, and I think Julianne tried to capture how female heroines were written in the past, especially during the Victorian age. I loved Marianne. I cried probably more toward the end as Marianne started to tell the truth to her grandmother and her father and eventually the love interest. She was delightful.
Update: I read Julianne’s 46-page companion to Edenbrooke called Heir to Edenbrooke. The hyperlink will take you to the Kindle version of both at the low cost of $1.99. Julianne tells the back story for Sir Philip Wyndham, the love interest, his time in the military to becoming the heir. She ends the book when he meets Miss Marianne Daventry at the Inn. Philip has an older brother Charles and a younger brother, William, and this prequel shows readers the dynamics between Philip and his brothers. They can see the reason for Philip to panic as well and leave his estate. I seriously loved that part the most.
Mr. Darcy came to mind. Darcy’s lack of social skills and seeming rudeness may have been similar to Philip when he meets Marianne. Darcy was the heir to a large fortune. I can imagine many scheming mamas throwing their daughters at Darcy, much like Philip experienced. Philip about lost his mind with the number of “damsels in distress” he witnessed. I liked reading his side of the meet-cute with Marianne. But I wish she had written the entire story from his viewpoint instead of ending there. Maybe she will merge both stories down the road. Hey, Jane Austen edited her works before reprinting. Look at “Sense & Sensibility.” She paid for the first edition to print, and the book sold out. The publisher wanted to print more, so she made edits to the book before printing started for the 2nd edition. Regardless, I enjoyed this prequel.