Greycourt Series, Book 1
Heat Factor: not very frequent but quite graphic
Character Chemistry: sort of meh
Plot: see storylines 1-6
Overall: I tried.
Well, it was Georgian romantic suspense, so… I’d like to acknowledge that writing suspense is difficult, and writing believable, non-obnoxious hate to love romance is difficult… This book almost worked for me?
No. I’m sorry. It just did not. I tried.
The book begins with the heroine, Freya, dashing through London with an infant Earl and a frantic nanny, at which point she (after 15 years) unexpectedly runs into the hero, Christopher, Duke of Harlowe, whom she loathes. Then it sort of mumbles its way to a country house party where everything actually happens. In fact, there are maybe 6 stories happening, any one of which could exist on its own. They are tied together, but I’m not entirely sold on their being necessary to each other or sometimes even the plot overall.
- Freya’s and Christopher’s families, along with the Greycourt family (of which more anon), were involved in some outrageously dramatic activities 15 years prior to the beginning of the book. These activities are illuminated slowly until we finally get a full picture of the still unsolved mystery of murder, maiming, and scandal. Has absolutely nothing to do with the story except to be background to F & C’s past relationship. Probably will form the foundation for more of the series. Or not, as it were.
- Freya is a Wise Woman. Wise Women are essentially anachronistic modern women but the sect has been around since before the Romans. Their society is some Utopian nonsense because all lifestyle choices Wise Women make are legitimate. I’m pretty sure people are people no matter what secret society they belong to, and some of them think others are making bad life choices. Anyway, Freya is out living her best life of freedom and independence (masquerading as a companion in an aristocratic household while rescuing tiny Earls, mind you). Who needs men, anyway?
- The Wise Women are being hunted (actively hunted! In 1790!) by anti-witch fanatics called, of all things, Dunkelders. (Could NOT take that one seriously.) Wise Women aren’t witches, but apparently these Dunkelders aren’t convinced. And they’re dour, humorless men, too, just in case we were inclined to like them.
- There’s a Lord who is preparing to bring to Parliament a Witch’s Act that does not encourage the existence of witches but rather encourages the active hunting of witches. This only a matter of years after anti-witch legislation was repealed… I wonder if he’s a Dunkelder? Conveniently, his estate is next to that of the house party. Also, conveniently, he is a terrible, wicked man who looks like a terrible, wicked man, with grotesque features and a rough, stocky build. If only terrible, wicked people were always so easy to identify, amiright?
- The evil Lord’s wife died unexpectedly. Or did she? She was buried immediately, and nobody saw the body. Pretty sure he’s up to something nefarious in that manor of his…. Maybe if Freya can figure it out, she can stop the Witch’s Act from being brought to Parliament! And also maybe rescue the dead (or not?!) wife? It sure is nice that Messalina Greycourt is also looking for answers about this Lord’s wife, or we’d be in quite a pickle.
- Oh also, Christopher (yes, he’s still around) is being blackmailed. His wife wrote some letters to an unscrupulous man, and the man is trying to cash in at the house party, which is the only reason Christopher leaves the seclusion of his house.
- AND THERE’S MORE! Each chapter begins with a part of a fairy story that, as far as I can tell, has absolutely nothing to do with anything. I quite enjoyed it, actually.
Let’s unpack this.
Christopher is generally flat and static. He’s got some issues, but he’s into Freya from nearly day one. He listens to her needs and wants and concerns and tries to find ways that they can both be happy and married. After all the scandal of 15 years ago, he’s trying hard to live his life without shame or regret for making the wrong decision. And then there’s that blackmail thing. Christopher is rather likeable, actually.
Freya needs to get over herself. The craziness of 1) above occurred when Freya was 12, and yet she has apparently never reconsidered a single conclusion she’d arrived at in the intervening 15 years even though she has been living in this superior society of enlightened women for nearly all of those 15 years. She has decided that Christopher is responsible for maiming her brother, so she wants to murder him. But then, her brother is suspected of murdering Aurelia Greycourt (but he wouldn’t!…That’s a story for another day. Maybe.), so naturally she can never again speak to her (former) bff Messalina Greycourt or her sister Lucretia Greycourt, because obviously they would side with the world against Freya’s family. Nevermind that she’s never given them an opportunity to speak OR (which is probably more telling) that they’ve never revealed her true identity while she’s masquerading as a companion. She also just categorically refuses to consider love or marriage because then men have all the power, which I guess gives us our romantic plot but it is a trope I am generally unimpressed by. For a 27-year-old enlightened woman, she is fantastically naive or immature or both. I guess she needs to be a dynamic character or something.
Possibly more irritating is all of the stereotyping. I’ve already mentioned the ugly, dour evil men. If you haven’t already heard it, please review: cultural stereotyping based on appearance reinforces that beauty is good and a lack thereof is bad not only in a physical but also in a moral sense. Of course in real life this is bunk, but our implicit biases are not easy to overcome.
We also encounter some men vs. women nonsense. Specifically, men make war and women make peace. Men are protective. Women give up their independence when they agree to marriage. Men only want one thing (sex! It’s sex!). Women do, in fact, need to be rescued, especially when they venture out on their own without asking for help.
Of these, the most frustrating are the first two and the last. Women are just as good at making or fomenting war as men (not answered in book – latent stereotype). Men are also not exclusively protective (also not answered in book – latent stereotype). And the worst: Freya runs out with Messalina to break into Lord Evil’s manor, doesn’t tell Christopher her plans, gets caught (of course!), and needs to be rescued. By Christopher. So ladies, you can’t actually do it on your own. If we’re taking a benefit-of-the-doubt approach, I think the point was that a partnership is better than going it alone, but the point was not well made if that was the goal, since Christopher just said he was upset and then promptly had sex with Freya, who at no time acknowledged she possibly could have made better life choices at any point in this storyline 3)-5) fiasco.
It boils down to this one note I jotted in Chapter 9: Messalina and Lucretia are obviously the smartest characters.
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