Monday, May 18, 2009

The Emerald Necklace - Diana Brown

A tragedy of errors. The first error was one of pride - pride that made Lady Leonora spurn the loving attentions of her commoner husband for the frivolous company of her aristocratic friends. The second error was one of vanity - the kind of vanity that made a beautiful young woman an easy victim for the flattery of an all-too worldly admirer. The third error was one of loyalty - loyalty to a father who would sell anything, even his daughter's honor, to save his own. For Leonora and Etienne Lambert, those were just the opening errors in a battle royal of willful misunderstanding that would give the word marriage a whole new meaning.

Lady Leonora Fordyce is a young lady sure of her place in society. She spends her days in leisure with her friend Penelope Oliphant and her brother Francis, to whom she imagines being married in a near future. After an exciting day in the park with her beau, she arrives home to find her father in deep conversation with an unknown man. Immediately she sees he is not from her class and dismisses him as a commoner and certainly someone without much interest. To Leonora’s deep shock, some days later, her father announces her that she is to marry the young man, Etienne Lambert, so he can help him with his heavy debts.

A convenience/forced marriage to help the family is not really an uncommon theme in traditional regencies, but this one was written with mastery. The first (and biggest) problem here seems to be the heroine, her father and even her dearest friends. All insufferable snobs filled with deep scorn for anyone who isn’t from their class. Leonora repeats many times how unworthy Lambert is of her. When she learns about her marriage, her first thought is that her father certainly refused the offer since it was unthinkable that someone like her would marry a tradesman. But in the other hand, it is completely acceptable for her father and other society members to be indebted to their necks and accept money from those they despise.

It’s impossible to like this little chit in the first 200 pages. She is everything I hate in a heroine: narrow minded, arrogant, stupid and selfish. I was so mad with her that I even thought of drowning her in the Tames several times. It’s not often I feel like this about a character, but I rarely stumbled upon someone so annoying. But then, with time and thinking with a bit more logic (which is not always easy while listening the heroine burping so many silly things), not everything was her fault. It’s true she was a brat, but she was bought by a man and forced into a marriage she never wanted, no matter her reasons. Her father and her husband never really tried to know her feelings about it.
Lord Fordyce was mostly interested in paying his debts and getting a monthly allowance from his son-in-law, while completely forgetting about Leonora’s happiness; and her husband was not really better. What was he thinking to buy a bride like this and expecting her to immediately love him without any suspicions and even some hurt pride?! Etienne was not always honest with his wife and despite their differences and their quarrels; the responsibility for their failed marriage was not solely Leonora’s.

After months of obstacles and misunderstandings, they finally take their separate ways, after a very dramatic situation, and, I must confess, I completely understood Leonora’s attitude and cheered her up. This girl was finally taking some action and making a life for herself. A new Leonora is born and I can’t help but admire her. She takes refuge in Yorkshire and there she builds a life for her. It’s the turning point of the story. Not only we actually see her changing, but it’s clear she wants to become someone different too. She becomes involved in the local activities and she impresses her neighbors and even her servants and workers with her interest for her estate affairs and even her wisdom.

It’s not often you follow a character grow like in this book. Slowly, and sometimes painfully, the spoiled brat becomes a strong woman, someone who knows what she wants, even if her relationship with her husband is still on the rocks and it’s climbing towards the unthinkable – a divorce. From a profound dislike for Leonora in the beginning of the story, I ended up suffering for her (and even Etienne) and the agony of some moments was quite powerful.

Etienne St. Clair Lambert was not an easy man. Born in the wrong side of the blanket, his upbringing was not a conventional one and he is a tough self-made man who never stops until he gets what he wants. In this case it was Leonora. He saw her once and it was all that it took. He marries her and never really expects to fail his conquest. We know he loves her but, at the same time, he never trusted her and there was absolutely no intimacy or even a desire to share his life with her.
As I said before, both characters had their flaws but he was a very guarded man. The only time he seems to loosen up was in company of another woman or when Leonora was not around. Each time she was present, he acted like he was expecting the worst from her. Nonetheless, he was the one who started to give Leonora’s some well deserved lessons about money and responsibilities. Something she knew nothing about since her father was not a good role model for anyone…

I spend the last 200 pages of the book holding my breath, dreading for the worst and ended up with a slight pain on my chest but a big smile on my face. I really must say I was very surprised with Diana Brown’s The Emerald Necklace which goes immediately to my Top 10 list of Best Traditional Regencies.

A little note, the book is written in the 1st person, which is something it often puts me off. Here it worked perfectly well, even if sometimes, I would have liked to know other characters perspectives of the story.

Grade: 4.5. / 5
You can also read Ana T.'s review of this book here.


Ana T. May 18, 2009 at 2:37 PM  

Wonderful review Alex, you really do the book justice. I can't wait to see what you think of her other books (they're in the mail already).

And I wish I could find more authors like Brown. She really makes us feel for the characters...

Ioana May 19, 2009 at 7:34 AM  

ummm... it sounds kind of scary actually :) I for one never been too much into deep emotional stories, but on the other side, when I see you talking so highly of her books, I don't want to be left behind :)
anyway, the one that tempts me the most is st martin's summer I guess...



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