Destined for spinsterhood, Isadora “Izzy” Temple can only dream of finding a husband—of feeling his touch in the dark, his lips on her neck, his passion building with each kiss. Imagine her surprise when she awakens to find she’s not dreaming at all! Lord Julian Blackworth, has mistaken Izzy’s room for his—and he’s fallen into her bed and into her wildest dreams…When the household discovers a man in her boudoir, Izzy pretends that Julian is her fiancé. Once he spends time playing the part, Julian finds himself falling for the fiesty beauty. But how can Izzy trust that this notorious rake’s feelings are for real—and that she won’t end up being branded a “fallen” woman?
Originally published in 2001, Fallen is Celeste Bradley’s first novel and it has a lot going for it. The hero and heroine are attractive, well-suited characters, the relationship between them is built displaying plenty of humour and affection, there’s a lip-smacking villain or two, good dialogue and the book is well-written.
But. And it’s quite a big but – Fallen almost feels as though it’s two separate books that have been welded together.
The story begins with our heroine, downtrodden spinster Isadora Temple, in the midst of what she thinks is an erotic dream. All too soon, she realises it’s not a dream at all – there’s a man in her bed and not only is he rather the worse for drink, he thinks she’s someone else! He’s far too large and heavy for her to be able to push him off her, so she does the only thing she can – she brains him with a candlestick.
It’s not long before the alarm is raised, and all the house guests come crowding into her room demanding to know what is going on. The drunken groper turns out to be one Eppingham Rowley (Eppie), Lord Blackwell, renowned scapegrace, womaniser and someday heir to a dukedom, who, it is believed, couldn’t possibly have been interested in the plain and mousy Izzy. That being the case, all agree that none of this was Izzy’s fault and her reputation will remain unblemished. But while Eppie is laid out on the rug, unconscious, and amidst the uproar – in which the loudest voice is the Marquis of Rotham, Eppingham’s father who does not scruple to berate and malign his son – Izzy notices many things which lead her to announce that she did in fact have an assignation with Eppingham that night.
Izzy made the claim in order to preserve the reputation of another of the guests, the lovely Lady Celia Bottomly, who she immediately sees is terrified of both Lord Bottomly, and exposure as the intended recipient of Eppingham’s… affections.
Rotham, Eppie’s unpleasant and autocratic father, insists on his marrying Izzy. He doesn’t want to get married, least of all to a woman he’s never seen and whom he believes had designed to deliberately trap him – but his sense of honour demands that he make amends for Izzy’s destroyed reputation. And as, when he sees her in daylight, he sees that she’s not elderly or ugly, he’s not totally averse to the idea of marrying her. When they begin to converse and he realises she’s not stupid either, and in fact, is intelligent with a good sense of humour, he is even less averse. Izzy, however, completely confounds him by insisting she does not wish to marry him, insisting on a fake betrothal which they will end after a few months so she will be able to live independently on the small inheritance she has been hoarding since the death of her parents.
The first half of the book is really quite lovely, as Izzy and Eppie –which she decrees is a stupid name, and instead uses his second name, Julian – come to know each other and gradually fall in love. Julian doesn’t recognise it for what it is, of course – all he knows is that he wants to kill anyone who would dare to hurt her – but as their relationship blossoms, so does Izzy, and Julian finds himself more and more drawn to her, and more and more determined to make her his wife.
I thoroughly enjoyed the way the rapport between them was established; they made each other laugh, teased each other and had begun to forge a real friendship until at almost exactly the half-way point, the tone of the book changed abruptly and we ran headlong into angst-ville.
Seeing Izzy in the arms of his best friend and mistakenly believing her to prefer him, Julian is overwhelmed by the green-eyed monster, and in a fit of jealous passion, seduces and makes love to her.
Unfortunately however, he manages to break her heart immediately afterwards by saying something incredibly crass, and Izzy flees.
From here on in, we’re in “big misunderstanding” territory. Izzy devotes most of her energy to avoiding Julian, and doesn’t realise she’s fallen pregnant after that one night. It’s not until her maid Betty (who is having an affair with Julian’s groom) confides her suspicions to her lover about her mistress’ condition, that Julian – who has realised he messed up big-time but is at a loss as to what to do about it – finally shows up. He is, however, furiously cold and will brook no disagreement when he tells Izzy that they are to be married for the sake of the baby.
Izzy becomes increasingly withdrawn, feeling the loss of the independence she had so longed for, knowing she is trapped in a marriage in which all the love is on one side, and convinced Julian does not and can never love her, even as he is struggling with the same feelings.
Things come to a head after the death of Julian’s grandfather the Duke of Dearingham. His father the Marquis inherits the title and takes much delight in informing Julian that his grandfather had disinherited him and that the lands and title will pass to his (Julian’s) firstborn son. I admit to being a little confused at this, because it’s stated early on that the estates are entailed and I know that normally an entail is written in stone. But here, apparently, one condition of the entail is that it can be re-written every so many generations, and that responsibility fell to Julian’s grandfather this time around. I have no idea whether that is legally possible – I’ve never come across it before, but I’m no expert on the British legal system, so perhaps it is.
At this news, Julian finally snaps. Nothing he ever did was good enough for his father or grandfather and he has spent his life knowing he was a disappointment, second best to his older brother Manny who had been, as far as Julian could tell, the perfect heir. But now, he learns the truth. That his father orchestrated his brother’s suicide – which Julian had always believed to have been as a result as a shooting accident – because he had discovered that Manny was homosexual. Horrified, sick and totally enraged, Julian vows that, if the child Izzy bears is a daughter, there will be no further children as he will never live with his wife. Unbeknownst to him however, he makes that declaration within Izzy’s hearing. She is heart-broken at the fact that he would put his revenge on his father above any possibility of their having a real marriage – and decides that the only course left open to her is the thing she had decided upon before meeting Julian – she is going to emigrate to America.
I was feeling a bit wrung out after all that!
On the whole, I enjoyed the book, but it definitely felt rather unbalanced. In the first half, Izzy blossoms from the put-upon poor relation – orphaned young, she was used as an unpaid housekeeper, gardener and maid of all-work by her stingy aunt and uncle – to an attractive, confident young woman of intelligence and humour, mostly due to Julian’s efforts to draw her out and the interest he takes in her. Julian is shown to possess a quick wit and quickly learns to appreciate Izzy’s uniqueness, and I really enjoyed watching their mutual affection grow and deepen.
The second half, though, is so filled with plot, that the characters we have come to know are almost sidelined in the attempt to get everything in. Izzy changes completely from being a bright, independent young woman and instead becomes a ‘moper’, almost entirely preoccupied with the fact that she has fallen deeply in love with a man who will never love her. And Julian, on being given the cold shoulder has absolutely no idea what to do; and even though he knows Izzy is purposely avoiding him, does nothing to bring about a meeting so they can talk things through. All he does is come over all dictatorial when he discovers she’s pregnant, which only serves to drive the wedge between them even deeper.
For his part, Julian is dealing with a fair bit of emotional baggage. The second son of the Marquis of Rotham, he became his heir on the death of his elder brother; and after the death of his mother, has never had anyone in his life who truly cared for him. As a result, he’s wary of letting people in and when he falls for Izzy has no idea how to deal with the myriad of feelings she evokes in him. That still doesn’t absolve him of his utter idiocy in my book, but I suppose that is the prerogative of the emotionally tortured hero.
As well as Julian and Izzy’s story, there are couple of sub-plots in the story, one involving the relationship between Izzy’s maid Betty and Julian’s groom, Tom. I have to say that this felt like so much padding; there were two or three whole chapters devoted to Betty and Tom getting it on, which I felt were unnecessary. I don’t object to a bit of hot sexxin in a romance, but to spend so much time on a couple of secondary characters shagging each others’ brains out just served to slow things down in terms of the main storyline.
The other sub-plot concerns Lady Celia Bottomly and her abusive, controlling husband. This one was rather more interesting (if I can use that word to describe it) in terms of the drama, even though it was resolved rather conveniently.
This is another of those books that has been on my TBR pile for ages which I opted to listen to instead, as it became available in audio earlier this year. In terms of the narration, I thought that on the whole Susan Ericksen did a good job. I know that she is known more for her work on contemporary romance audios (such as the J.D Robb In Death series), but it seems she is branching out, having narrated this, the three books in Cecilia Grant’s Blackshear Family series and a few other historicals. Her English accent is pretty good, although there are several tell-tale slips in her pronunciation, such as “deTAIL” instead of “DEtail” and “VauxHALL” instead of “VAUXhall”. I liked the Irish brogue she used for Tom the groom, although her attempt at a Scottish accent for Celia’s husband was much less successful and very quickly turned Irish!
I also found it difficult, sometimes, to differentiate between the male and female characters; she deepens the pitch of her voice slightly for Julian, but sometimes she moves so quickly from him to Izzy in dialogue that I found it sometimes took me a split second or two to catch up and realise just who was speaking.
She was more successful at differentiating between the characters of the same sex; Celia’s voice is softer and more tremulous than Izzy’s and she gives Betty a fairly convincing cockney accent.
Ms Ericksen’s style of narration is rather forceful (I’ve called it “in yer face” elsewhere) which works in some situations and not in others. I found her narration of the sex scenes to be a bit “shouty” at times; she mimics the partcipants’ progress towards climax by using rhythm and volume, which makes sense, but I have to admit that sometimes I found it to be a bit too much.
Susan Ericksen is clearly an experienced and talented narrator, although I’m not convinced she’s cut out for narrating historical romances. I have yet to listen to all the Cecilia Grant narrations, and as they are among my favourite romances of recent years, I’m hoping that she has toned down some of those aspects of her performance here that I found problematic.