Once upon a time…
A duke fell in love
Gowan Stoughton of Craigievar, Duke of Kinross, values order and self-control above all else. So when he meets a lady as serene as she is beautiful, he promptly asks for her hand in marriage.
With a lady
Edie—whose passionate temperament is the opposite of serene—had such a high fever at her own debut ball that she didn’t notice anyone, not even the notoriously elusive Duke of Kinross. When her father accepts his offer… she panics.
And when their marriage night isn’t all it could be, she pretends.
In a tower.
But Edie’s inability to hide her feelings makes pretending impossible, and when their marriage implodes, she retreats to a tower—locking Gowan out.
Now Gowan faces his greatest challenge. Neither commands nor reason work with his spirited young bride. How can he convince her to give him the keys to the tower…
When she already has the keys to his heart?
Rating: C for content and C for narration
I found this rather a difficult book to rate, because it’s quite unlike most of the other historical romances I’ve read or listened to. At times, I almost forgot I was listening to a romance because there were so many uncomfortable moments that made it almost too realistic to be termed a romance.
That’s not to be taken as a damning criticism, however. I think that Ms. James has touched on something in Once Upon a Tower, which is actually very honest and, in many ways, timeless. She’s fashioned a story that details the pitfalls into which a young and inexperienced couple can easily fall when they enter into a relationship, which has no solid foundation other than a strong physical attraction, allowing their expectations and attitudes of life and relationships to be informed by too many outside influences.
Gowan Stroughton has been the Duke of Kinross since he was fourteen and is every inch the aristocrat. At twenty-two, he confidently manages several large estates, has a well-deserved reputation for financial acumen, and even acts as a consultant to the Bank of England. He fills his life with work and duty, partly because it’s how he was brought up and partly to escape the shadow of his late father, a drunken wastrel.
Lady Edith (Edie) Gilchrist is an extremely talented musician who, but for her sex, would have been a world-famous exponent of the cello. Lord Gilchrist is a friend of Gowan’s, so when the latter is struck with Edie’s beauty and serenity, it’s a mere formality for him to ask – and be granted – her hand in marriage.
Having obtained Gilchrist’s consent, Gavin has to leave London without seeing his betrothed again, as his presence is urgently required elsewhere. He is, however, very taken with Edie and finds himself, almost for the first time, being unable to completely direct his concentration where it needs to be.
This sets the tone for their relationship for much of the book. Gowan, a workaholic ruled by duty, is still a virgin and has never been troubled by such lustful thoughts; betrothed in the cradle, he believed it would have dishonored both him and his future bride had he taken mistresses or employed courtesans. When his fiancée died, he was content with his life as it was and never really had the time or inclination for dalliance.
When Gowan and Edie meet again several weeks later, it’s not long before they’re both ready to hit the nearest flat surface – although they manage to restrain themselves until the wedding, and I have to say, the sexual tension in that part of the story is pretty scorching.
It’s easy to forget that Gowan is barely more than a teenager himself, given that the majority of the heroes found in historical romances are older, experienced men of the world. Edie’s attractions hit him with full force. Suddenly he’s a walking erection – a seething mass of hormones and he isn’t too pleased about the distraction, especially when he begins to believe that she isn’t similarly affected. She is, of course. He’s the epitome of the brawny, handsome, Highland laird after all but both of them seem to be blind to the fact that the other is reduced to a pile of mush in his/her presence.
You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals, where I’ve given it a C for content and a C for narration.