The story begins in 1870 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Maxwells of Monreith are well-born but always in financial difficulty. Jane is ever the tomboy, much to the chagrin of her grasping mother who has plans to marry the blossoming beauty into a wealthy family. Jane’s great friend and cohort in *crime* is Thomas Fraser and as the two grow older their friendship develops into something stronger. They hope to wed one day, although Jane’s mother and Thomas’ guardian Simon Fraser have other plans for the two and will resort to any means to separate the young lovers.
To avoid spoilers I’m not going into much more story detail, but word from the colonies forever changes Jane’s life and heartbroken she enters into a marriage with the handsome but ever so dark and brooding Alexander Gordon, Fourth Duke of Gordon. Can Jane let go of her lost love and make a successful, happy marriage? Can Alex accept there is a part of Jane that will always love Thomas or will he allow his jealousy to run out of control? Jane Gordon led quite a life; mother to six children, she was a celebrated beauty and favorite of George III and Queen Charlotte. She meddled in politics, assisted her husband in recruiting troops for the Gordon Highlanders, and managed to obtain brilliant marriages for her daughters despite Alex’s tight pocketbook.
I really enjoyed this book a lot, especially the first and last of it. Jane’s antics as a young girl were priceless (loved the pig race), as well as the early days of her courtship and marriage to Alex. Things got a bit slow in the middle third as it seemed pretty much made up of strum and drang and true love denied, as well as Jane and Alex’s constant arguments and reconciliations resulting in one baby after another. However, the latter part of the book definitely picked up steam when a very formidable Jane comes to London and makes her own mark on society and her tempestuous relationship with Alex continues.
I just have a few quibbles, first of which are the constant references to Alex as the Fourth Duke of Gordon. I got it the first time or two and I didn’t need to be clubbed over the head with it ad infinitum, and the constant use of “tis” in the dialog also began to grate after a while. There is quite a lot of sex in this book, and while quite tame by today’s standards a lot of it wasn’t all that necessary, and I got a bit tired of hearing about searching between one’s partner’s legs for the object of one’s desire. Less is more.
Lastly, as much as I love a pair of star crossed lovers, Jane and Thomas didn’t quite come to life for me as much as I’d like to see in a novel. I wanted something more like Ash and Juli in The Far Pavilions – oh the pain he felt when he watched Juli being married to the old goat – if Ware could have brought those emotions into the story this would have been a solid five stars. 3.5 stars, a very good book, just not a great one.