Following a disastrous incident at a house party, Lady Isobel Jervis is exiled to the country to avoid further scandal. At the imposing Wimpole Hall, she meets architect Giles Harker. He is as eye-catching as the elegant house, but shockingly arrogant—and infuriatingly dismissive.
Despite himself, Giles is strangely drawn to the haughty Isobel, and stuns her with a secret kiss in the gardens. As the illegitimate son of an infamous scarlet woman, he knows love can be dangerous. Their growing attraction could come at the cost of both their reputations.
This novel set at Wimpole Hall features real-life characters and is written in association with the National Trust.
One of the things that interested me about this book was the fact that the majority of the action takes place somewhere with which I’m familiar – Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, which I’ve visited a few times. I always enjoy reading a story set somewhere I’ve been, so that was an instant recommendation. I’ve also read and enjoyed a number of Louise Allen’s other books and know that her work is well-written and well-researched. But despite both those things being in evidence in Rumors, there was something about it which didn’t quite work for me.
Wimpole Hall (my photo)
Lady Isobel Jervis is twenty-four and unmarried. She had been engaged several years earlier but had lost her fiancé tragically in a carriage accident. Since returning to society, Isobel has gone through the motions each Season, but has found no man of interest to her – although unfortunately, her disinterest has been seen by many as disdain and aloofness. When three drunken young men decide to warm up the frosty spinster by bursting into her room late at night and attempting to assault her, she is, of course, blamed for the whole thing and is immediately bundled away in the country to stay with her eminently respectable relatives, the Hardwickes, in order to wait for the scandal to die down.
On arrival, she meets not only the family, but Mr. John Soane and Mr. Giles Harker, two architects who are currently engaged on making repairs and improvements to the property.
Mr. Harker is an incredibly handsome young man, all too used to attracting the attention of every young woman he meets and he immediately jumps to the conclusion that Isobel is another of those ladies to become infatuated with him because of his looks. He behaves rather rudely towards her, and when she divines his reasons, Isobel is angry at his presumption.
The ice between them begins to thaw however, and they begin to get to know each other better and to embark on a friendship. Giles discovers why Isobel has been sent away in disgrace, and after his initial reaction (which is to believe the rumormongers) realizes that she has been badly wronged and decides that it’s up to him to restore her good name.
The story is quite eventful for a fairly small number of pages, which might be one of the reasons I found the book to be less than satisfying. The animosity between Isobel and Giles at the beginning is fairly short-lived, and I enjoyed seeing them take their first tentative steps towards friendship. But I didn’t feel that sufficient time was devoted to developing their relationship after that; by shortly over half-way through, Isobel was declaring her love for Giles and the two were embarking upon a sexual relationship, despite Giles’ insistence that he didn’t feel the same way about her.
Of course that is not the case; but by lying to Isobel about the nature of his feelings, Giles is seeking to protect her from further scandal and heartbreak. For one thing, he is the bastard son of a scandalous marchioness known in society as the “Scarlet Widow” and as such is not regarded as a true gentleman, despite his education and manners. Isobel is the daughter of an earl and too far above Giles in station for a marriage between them to be in any way acceptable to her family or society.
In order to pursue his chosen career, Giles needs to be able to navigate his way through the ton, as the rich and titled are the most likely people to be able to purchase his services as an architect. But because of his birth and the scandalous behavior frequently exhibited by his mother, he has to be incredibly circumspect – should the slightest whiff of scandal attach to him, his career and prospects would be ruined. And making an unequal match with an earl’s daughter would certainly cause scandal, especially as their marriage would likely have to take place without parental approval.
Giles doesn’t want to condemn Isobel to a life apart from her family and dogged by scandal, so he decides that the best thing to do is to lie to her and tell her he doesn’t love her.
Men really are stupid sometimes, aren’t they?
I think my major issue with the book is that while Ms. Allen has certainly imbued it with a real sense of place, I didn’t get any sense of chronological setting and in fact, had to check the first page several times to remind myself that the book is set in 1801 and not in the 1920s. Isobel was definitely not a shy, retiring virgin; she was a young woman with secrets who had borne a lot sorrow in her life and had, probably because of it, decided to live her life and to go after what she wanted. That makes perfect sense, but such sensibilities felt a little too modern to me.
I found Giles a difficult character to like for much of the book, too. It’s easy to understand his rudeness at the beginning, but the fact that he is so quickly prepared to believe the worst of Isobel, even after they have become friends, does not speak well of him. I also realized that I wasn’t clear exactly why Isobel fell for him. He (literally) saved her life and then went to great lengths to prove her innocent of scandal, being badly injured himself in the process. So certainly, I can understand her feeling immense gratitude towards Giles. But as to why she loved him? I think this goes back to what I said earlier about the fact that not enough time was devoted to developing the romance between the protagonists. There were so many other elements shoe-horned into the story – Isobel’s BIG secret, Giles’ mother’s interference, Isobel’s reconciliation with her family, Giles’ trip to Hereford and more – that the romance was neglected.
All in all, I found the book to be well-written and thought that Isobel was a slightly unusual and likeable heroine. Even though I had reservations about the modernity of her outlook and attitudes, I nonetheless found her to be the most well rounded of all the characters in the story. There were also some lovely moments of understanding between her and Giles, but ultimately, I’m afraid I came away from Rumorsfeeling disappointed and dissatisfied.