Miss Marian Wynswich is a rather unconventional young lady. She plays chess, reads Greek, and is as educated as any young man. And she’s certain falling in love is a ridiculous endeavor and vows never to do such a thing. But everything changes when she receives a Christmas visit from someone unexpected a young and handsome English lord.
This is a thoroughly charming and heartwarming story. Marian Wynswich is sixteen-going-on-seventeen, but nonetheless has shouldered much of the responsibility for her household since the death of her profligate father the year before.
She loves her family dearly, but they don’t make life all that easy for Marian or for themselves. Her younger brother Alistair is sent down from Eton and her elder brother Percy is often away. Her sister Ariadne, though beautiful, will not say ‘boo’ to a goose and her mother is often self-absorbed and critical of Marian to the point of unkindness.
Marian is educated rather than accomplished; she frequently speaks without thinking and displays hoydenish tendencies – but for all that, she is devoted to her family and wants only to secure their happiness. Unfortunately however, the death of her father has left the family in straightened circumstances, and they will have to sell their home in order to clear the debts he left behind. This will therefore be the last Christmas they have in the house, and Marian is determined to ensure that it is their best ever.
I would normally have difficulty in empathising with a heroine who is so young, but Marian is so well written that her youth is never an issue. She is naturally lively, intelligent and caring; and if there are times when she does act rather immaturely, those are more than compensated for by the depth of her compassion and love for her family. And as the novel progresses, we see her starting to make the journey from girlhood to womanhood as she becomes more circumspect while losing none of the qualities which make her so likeable.
The impetus for the move towards a greater maturity comes largely from Marian’s association with Gilbert Collinwood, Lord Ingraham (who is just gorgeous), who has returned to England with her brother Percy. Marian and Ingraham very quickly strike up a friendship and he begins to show an understanding and sympathy towards her that she has not so far received from any of her family.
It is quickly clear to the reader (if not to Marian) that Gil is attracted to her, although he does nothing overtly to take things in a more romantic direction between them. I really liked the way their relationship developed; their friendship was very easy and there was lots of hand-holding and touching (probably more than the conventions of the time would have permitted, to be honest), which all added to the gradual build up of the romantic tension between them.
In the second half of the book, we discover that there is a lot more to Gil than meets the eye, and through him, Marian becomes embroiled in a scheme to expose an English plot to supply weapons to Napoleon. She is disappointed to discover the secret life Gil has been leading, and tells him so in no uncertain terms. That is not enough for him to want to discontinue it however – he knows that someone has to do what he does and thinks it might as well be him – but what he can’t see is the toll it has taken on him, and the effect it could have on the people around him. Marian, however, sees this clearly, and following a terrible experience, takes a rather extreme step in order to force Gil to stop and think.
Gil and Marian are extremely well-drawn, likeable characters who are clearly very well suited and Marian is refreshingly level-headed for the heroine of a romance novel. Even after Gil does something seemingly unforgiveable, and despite her own feelings of hurt and despair, Marian finds it in herself to wait and find out what might really be going on rather than running away or having a missish hissy fit.
This is a story about hope, kindness and compassion; about the importance of family and of love. And yes, Marian’s Christmas wish does ultimately come true – and in the best possible way.