Kingscastle by Sophia Holloway
There are some books I want to read in one sitting, because I am enjoying them so much. This book, set in the early part of the nineteenth century with the end of the Napoleonic wars, features such wonderful characters that I did not want it to end. Many people enjoy novels set in this pre Victorian era, a genre made fashionable by Georgette Heyer, and this one is a super example of that popular type of book. It features a tall dark hero – one Captain William Hawksmoor – a genuinely awful female – Lady Willoughby Hawksmoor – and romantic possibilities. There is adventure, a community at risk, and a sophisticated plot of misunderstandings amid genuine danger. I enjoyed the details of clothes, the countryside setting with some significant houses, and most of all the dialogue, whether waspish, witty or just plain clever. There is an ill-treated heroine, some “capable” women, and so much to enjoy in this book of manners, romance and the problems of coping with new challenges in life. The research which provides the scaffolding is present, but never interrupts the narrative. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book.
When the book begins William is astonished to receive a visit from a lawyer, Mr Tideswell, with the news that he is now the fifth Marquis of Athelney, heir to the title and vast estates. After all, he is the younger son of a youngest son, and had never thought that he would inherit, but there have been a series of deaths that have led to this point. He is further surprised to hear that in order to be able to act without trustees he must marry and produce a male heir within a certain time. It seems at the very least he must take command of his estates and embark on a new way of life from his naval career, which he has followed since the age of fifteen. He accompanies the lawyer to London in a hired coach previously beyond his means as a half pay naval officer in a time of peace, and is supplied with the clothes, the valet and an indication of how his life is to be lived.
His arrival at his main estate of Kingscastle is notable for his bewilderment at the sheer size of his house, his staff, and the requirements of having a substantial number of tenants and others who are dependent upon him. His first encounter with his fearsome aunt, the Dowager Lady Willoughby, is a surprise, if only because of her whole attitude to him and her surprising determination that he should immediately marry the girl she has selected for him. Fortunately he has spotted another young woman, an underpaid companion who is far more interesting than the rather insipid Charlotte, Eleanor Burgess, but no one is seriously suggesting her as a potential bride. Her ladyship is indeed determined that they will be kept apart, and there is nothing she will not do, even in the face of an emergency, to prevent any unauthorised romance.
One of the delights of this book is the battle that Lady Willoughby puts up to bend everyone and everything to her will. Even when so many things are at risk, she continues her appalling behaviour. I get the impression that the author really enjoyed creating and maintaining this character and her authoritarian manner. The other characters are so well written and consistent, including the lovely Harry Bitton and the resourceful Anne Greenham. I thoroughly recommend this novel to all who enjoy historical fiction with an element of romance, and I will be eagerly seeking out Holloway’s other novels.