Sunday, June 21, 2020

Review: Her Lady's Honor

Her desires could be trampled by anyone else, simply because Beatrice was the spinster sibling with no rights of her own. She'd often wondered if being married would give her slightly more power, or if she'd end up as a shell of herself like Mother had.
Her Lady's Honor by Renee Dahlia has a back cover blurb that has been haunting my dreams since I first read it months ago.  So I was all set to love this story to the moon and back when I finally settled in to read it.  How did it turn out?  Well, it was kind of a mixed bag.

Lady Eleanor "Nell" St. George, daughter of a second son, niece to a Duke, used her wits and her family connections to join the war effort as a veterinary assistant.  Dreadfully close to the front, it was the job of Nell's unit to tend to the horses, keep them alive, patch them up and send them back into battle.  Now the war is over and Nell is delivering on a promise.  Her captain, gassed and hospitalized, asked Nell to ensure his horse is returned to him in Wales.

Beatrice Hughes is the captain's oldest, and spinster, daughter, seen as nothing more than a servant in her own home.  Her mother is a shell of her former self after her three oldest boys were killed in the war.  The captain is an abusive man who beats his wife and sees little to no value in his girl children.  Her sister Grace is selfish, still bemoaning the death of her fiance overseas, so it's up to Beatrice to keep the farm running, the smaller children cared for while her mother acts the ghost and her father drinks himself into oblivion.  Beatrice's life is not her own - and then in walks Nell, a beautiful, brave adventuress that her father treats respectfully because she's "a Lady."

Dahlia does some interesting things with this book in terms of conflict and the internal character struggles.  Class is a very big deal in this story.  Nell is a Lady.  Nell has privilege.  But her years in the war have made her less polished, a bit more crass, to the point where she's almost dreading going home to her family.  She misses them terribly, she longs for the comfort of home to process her war experiences, but she also recognizes that she's not "Lady Eleanor" anymore.  She's "Nell."  The war has changed her and there's no going back.  But at the end of the day, even with her baggage, Nell has choices.

In contrast, Beatrice has no choices.  She's a heroine trapped in a life that promises nothing but drudgery and uncertainty.  Stuck in place by family obligations, nothing to look forward to - not even dreams.  Because what good are dreams when your reality is so soul-sucking.  She could marry, but who's to say that she wouldn't end up saddled to a man just like her father, and Beatrice is well aware she's a lesbian. There's no questioning of her sexuality. So marriage, even as a possible escape, is out.

Nell has respect for the captain prior to showing up on his doorstep and once she meets his wife and children she has to reconcile the good solider she served under with the abusive man terrorizing his family.  Then Beatrice's mother goes missing and the captain's temperament takes an even more unsavory turn.

It's a weighty book with weighty themes and Dahlia does introduce moments of levity, but they don't always work.  The tone feels off when she does so. Also, while I sympathized with Beatrice a great deal it's still hard to not find her insufferable at times.  Girl, Nell is trying. Nell has issues, and says some callous things that hurt Beatrice.  But then Beatrice pouts and throws Nell's apologies back in her face even when, as the reader, you can tell Nell's apologies are heartfelt. That she's sorry, that she'll do better.  As for the romance, it's OK but not great.  It's very heavy insta-lust and while the chemistry is there, I never quite figured out how they fell in love.  Lust, sure. I got that.  Love?  Not so much.

However the setting is well drawn (the incessant rain, the farm, the small Welsh village...) and the cast of characters vast and interesting.  In a genre that tends to ignore class because it's inconvenient (and readers do seem to love Dukes living happily ever after with governesses...) the fact that Dahlia doesn't ignore it, addresses it even, adds compelling and realistic drama to the romance.  It wasn't everything I wanted it to be, but there was still plenty here for me to admire.

Final Grade = B-

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