“I love you, Althea—you are so beautiful,” murmured the young man into my ear.
I looked up at him from under my eyelashes. “I love you too,” I confessed. I averted my gaze and added privately, “You are so rich.”
Unfortunately, I apparently said this aloud.
Well, at least she's honest.
This book is reminiscent, however briefly, of Jane Austen's Emma, ruined by a love triangle and no romance. It is just darling, there are funnily-hyphened names like the Bumbershook and Throstletwist, a "Crooked Castle" with a moat (without fish---they've all been eaten), and a Happily-Ever-After. Unfortunately, it was bogged down by the lack of romance. This would ordinarily be a good thing, except, well, I read this book wanting a romance. Imagine that!
Snow will sometimes fall in June. Khanh will occasionally seek romance. Yes, it does occur, albeit rarely.
There is a love triangle in this book, and it pisses me off because there is no case for either of the young men involved. One is the perfect man, a handsome young Baron, a posher Mr. Bingley from Pride and Prejudice, if you will. The other a brusque, rude, ill-mannered jerk, the Baron's commoner cousin. The main character, the very Emma-like Althea has to choose between the two. This is a seriously sweet book, Althea is a very likeable character; she is vain, but completely pragmatic, she has to be, why?
Our only hope was in marriage. Mine.
The lovely Althea Crawley hasn't a single pence to her name, therefore it comes as a rather monumental task for her to save their ancestral home. Or rather, ancestral wreck. Althea's wildly romantic grandfather built a castle by the sea only to see it crumble into dust and disrepair after he squandered his entire fortune on the castle, leaving nothing to the castle's upkeep---or his heirs. The castle may look like a wedding cake threw up on Camelot.
Indeed, much of the structure was nonfunctional in any but a decorative sense, with winding stone stairs leading to nowhere, murder holes so improperly placed that they could pose no danger even to the most oblivious of intruders, and a hodgepodge of towers and battlements sticking out at random.
But it's their family home, and Althea is determined to keep it in the family. By whatever means necessary. And that includes some pretty unpleasant means.
“Perhaps I should consider an elderly suitor,” I mused. “They are more easily managed, I believe. And they often have defective hearing, which might be quite an advantage.”
Althea is not alone, she's got a loving mother, a four-year old brother, and two wealthy (but unhelpful in any way) stepsisters named Prudence and Charity.
Hint: the stepsisters are neither prudent nor charitable.
Althea's one fault is that she has a tendency to speak before she thinks. Thus, the failed marriage proposal at the beginning of this review, but fear not, for Lord Boring is coming into town. Or rather, into Lesser Hoo. Lord Boring is the rather unfortunate title of a young Baron named Simon Westing. He's, well, perfect! Money, a title, and handsome to boot.
The knowledge that he owned this imposing house and extensive property could only enhance his fine face and figure, which were further flattered by his faultless evening dress.
In contrast, his cousin, Frederick is a commoner, he's in BUSINESS (so lower-class), he's rude, ill-mannered, and to top it off...
He was an amazingly unattractive man.
It was the black scowl he bestowed on my mother and me that ruined his looks and rendered him repellent.
So now it's looking interesting. And to top it off, there's the Marquess. He's a little bit too old for her, and he's a peer. It doesn't look like Althea has much of a chance with the Marquess.
If he did remarry, it would be expected that he would choose a woman from one of the great families of England, not an impoverished young girl from the back of beyond in a dilapidated castle by the edge of the North Sea.
But one thing's for certain.
Life in little Lesser Hoo had become much more interesting of late.
Similarities to Emma:
Everyone would be much better off if I arranged matters to suit myself.
Let them find out the solution themselves. With a little assistance from me, of course.
Emma is beautiful, rich, and without a care in the world. Althea's not that carefree. The only thing they have in common is their beauty and their tendency to take over peoples' lives.
Althea didn't start off that way. She began the story with one purpose, to find an advantageous marriage. Slowly she realizes that she needs to manipulate the situation to get her stepsisters away, to get alone time with Lord Boring, which is simply impossible, since Frederick seems to be underfoot ALL THE FUCKING TIME.
“Why, oh why does His Lordship suffer the company of that odious man?”
The more new people she meets, the more plans she has in mind. If she likes a friend, she feels the need to "help" that friend along with their relationship. Of course, everything should work out in Althea's interest first, but she's still got everyone's best interest at heart! Does it come as a surprise at all that Althea makes a series of regrettable decisions?
I stared at her, stricken. What had I done?
Althea's Beauty: She is 17, she is beautiful, but her beauty is never directly shown in the book. I don't even know what she looks like, all we know is that she is tremendously lovely. She knows it, she wields her beauty with pride. Althea's beauty is the only thing she has.
I had always known, ever since I was thirteen years old and men first began to look at me, that beauty was power, the only real power (other than cash in hand) that a woman could possess. I knew it was transitory, and must be used shrewdly and well in the few years it lasted.
She uses her beauty to find a wealthy partner, but she HAS to, so that's fine with me. She is never cruel, she never hates people needlessly. She understands that looks are only superficial, and they do not affect the person beneath. She befriends a plain girl, Miss Vincy, without ever judging her appearance.
She was a good and gentle creature, as well as a talented and intelligent woman, who would make the Baron a better wife than I. Beauty is a coin squandered by time, but Miss Vincy’s virtues would last throughout her life.
The Romance: The most frustrating thing about the book, because there was so little of it. Lord Boring is rather...boring, it's true. There is nothing wrong with him, and that was what bothered me. There was nothing wrong with Lord Boring, so why is the book trying to enforce a love triangle on us?! Compared to him, Frederick was a jerk. He constantly refers to Althea as "Miss Hrrm" because he can't be fucked to remember what her last name is. He is shoddily dressed, he can't be fucked to wear normal clothing at a ball. He goes around desecrating her ancestral home...
“These portraits ought to be cleaned,” he said, ignoring my suggestion and fiddling with the painting of the little dog. “I believe that a penknife inserted here under the frame would allow us to see—”
“Mr. Fredericks!” I cried. “Please!"
He pokes around ancient monuments around her home, like why the FUCK would you try to screw around with something like Stonehenge?! Frederick almost gets her brother and dog killed, only to complain about losing his boots in the process of saving them.
“Be careful of those,” Mr. Fredericks instructed, having thrust the second boot square into my face. “They cost a monstrous sum of money. No, don’t throw them, you’ll scratch the leather.”
Sure, he saves them, but here's the thing, it was HIS neglect that endangered them in the first place.
Their romance isn't a romance in the traditional sense, not in the Regency sense. There's a lot of arguments and a lot of conflicts without a whole lot of emotion, so that things don't feel realistic when they eventually realize their feelings for one another. I wanted a sweet romance, but I just didn't get any of that. This book did surprise me, I didn't expect things to happen the way they did, so props for that, but otherwise, this is rather a disappointment, however cute it was.