Widowed and destitute, Lady Mary Cavendish is left with only her pride. Daughter of an earl and great-granddaughter to a Stuart King, family expectation and obligation demands she remarry. But not just any man will do; her husband must rank among the nobility. Falling in love with her handsome and enigmatic neighbor is out of the question. As always, Mary will do her duty and ignore her heart.
Country squire Christopher Bryce has secretly loved his neighbor Mary for many years. Yet, he is resigned to the cruel reality they are not social equals and thus can never share a future together. Never mind that his scandalous past and a heartbreaking secret make him thoroughly unworthy of such a proud beauty.
Then into their lives steps a ghost from Mary’s past, whose outrageous behavior has Mary questioning her worldview, and Christopher acting upon his feelings, and for all to see. The mismatched couple begin to wonder if in fact love can prevail—that a happily ever after might just be possible if only they dare to follow their hearts.
I’m a big fan of Lucinda Brant’s and have enjoyed all of the books of hers I’ve listened to or read. Which is why it saddens me to say that Proud Mary, the fifth book in her Roxton Family Saga, was something of a disappointment.
The proud lady of the title is Lady Mary Cavendish, whose husband, Sir Gerald, died two years previously. Sir Gerald was a boorish brute of a man who did not treat Mary well and whose death has left his wife and ten-year-old daughter Theodora (Teddy) on the verge of destitution. Were it not for the actions of the estate’s steward, Mr. Christopher Bryce, Mary and Teddy would have had to leave their home, but Bryce keeps the truth of their situation to himself and due to his astute management and assistance they continue to live as before.
Christopher Bryce has been steward of Abbeywell Farm for something like eight years, and has been quietly in love with Mary for just as long. His good-looks and natural charm set hearts a-flutter among the local ladies, but he has eyes for none but Mary – even though he has little hope that she will ever return his affection. She is the daughter of an earl and the great-grand-daughter of a king, and he is a mere country squire – albeit a successful and wealthy one – with a rather mysterious (and unusual) past.
Having married once for the sake of family and duty and been utterly miserable, Mary is loath to remarry for the same reasons, but accepts that she will have to do so at some point. Of late, however, she has been unable to prevent her thoughts going in a different – and not at all welcome – direction. She and Christopher Bryce rarely see eye-to-eye about the estate, yet there’s no denying he’s an extremely attractive man and that when they aren’t at odds, he is kind and agreeable company, attentive to her wishes in a way she has never before experienced.
The first part of the book is lovely, beautifully chronicling the longing Christopher and Mary feel for each other and then showing Christopher becoming more determined in his pursuit as he attempts to show Mary that they are right for each other and that they could be happy together. Mary, whose spirit has been squashed both by her obnoxious, snobbish mother and her abusive husband, takes a little time to come out of her shell, but with Christopher’s coaxing and support, she decides it’s time she allowed herself to experience pleasure and to have something she wants for herself, and spends an idyllic week with him squirreled away at his cottage by the river. Christopher and Mary are able to explore their physical attraction to each other discreetly, and are well on the way to making some decisions about their future, when the plot veers off in another direction, almost the entire Roxton clan reappears – and the story suddenly becomes more concerned with the progression of Antonia, Duchess of Kinross’ pregnancy, and various family issues, some of which are plot threads picked up from the previous book, Dair Devil.
I’m grateful the author resolved these threads. But it comes at the expense of the romance between Mary and Christopher, which is pushed to one side in favour of a big Roxton reunion and means we have to wait for almost half the book for Mary’s response to Christopher’s proposal. When it finally comes, it is overshadowed by other developments. I will, however, say that Mary’s long-awaited upbraiding of her horrible mother made me want to cheer.
Proud Mary is every bit as well-researched and well-written as Lucinda Brant’s other books. Her research and attention to detail is superb and her ability to transport the reader to an earlier time and place – in this case the middle of the Eighteenth Century – really is masterful. Those aspects of the book, whether it’s the outward trappings (fashions, furniture etc.) or the more important understanding and integration of custom and social convention are excellent and thoroughly enjoyable. The two protagonists, too, are terrific, well-rounded characters with a lot of depth and complexity to them, who are, in spite of the vast differences in their social stations, obviously meant for one another. But I wanted more of them together and more of the newly confident Mary who is happy and in love for the first time in her life.
I liked Christopher and Mary individually and together, and their histories – his as a man with things in his past he’s not proud of and hers as the wife of a neglectful and abusive husband and the daughter of an overbearing, status-obsessed woman – mean that they have a lot to work through before they can achieve their HEA. But the intrusion of the larger family in the last third or so of the book wasn’t a welcome one. I’ve liked all the previous stories in the series and am familiar with the characters and relationships, but this book missed the mark, and it’s a shame, because the two protagonists are such great characters that I felt they were rather wasted amid the throng.
I can’t rate the book any lower than a B-/3.5 stars because the writing is excellent and the historical background is superb. But I can’t rate it any higher because as a romance, it runs out of steam in the second half and in the end, falls rather flat.