Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: The Secret Life of Lady Julia by Lecia Cornwall

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Julia Leighton was the only daughter of the Earl and Countess of Carrindale and betrothed, from a very early age, to the Duke of Temberlay. Her future had been planned out for her and all she had to do was sit and wait for everything to happen. It is the life many girls aspire for, but a restlessness grows within Julia and grows more insistent as her betrothal ball draws nearer and the flames are fanned even further when Julia meets Thomas Merritt -- a man who excites her with a simple word and a mere smile.

Young and eager, Julia succumbs to the temptation that Thomas represents and after one stolen night, Julia loses her innocence and becomes an adult out of necessity. Disowned, disinherited and with her young son, Julia relies on the kindness of Major Lord Stephen Ives, who once served with her late brother.

Now as companion to Lord Stephen's fragile sister, Julia is swept up in the glittering and menacing world of politics and society as she and Dorothea accompany Lord Stephen as part of the English delegation to the Congress at Vienna.

Despite the busy-ness of her position, and with her son, Julie can't help but think about Thomas and wonders what he might be doing right now.

Who is Thomas Merritt? Who is this man who moves so effortlessly in society but who doesn't seem to be connected to anyone? Who is this man who can charm women out of their gowns ... and jewelry?

Lecia Cornwall's latest offering follows the fall and subsequent rising of a young lady named Julia Leighton. She had the world in the palm of her hands but her youthfulness and thirst for adventure led to her ruin. Stripped of everything, she now served as companion to Lady Doe. It is a difficult pill for Julia to swallow: lost to her is the world of luxury and comfort, which she grew up in -- but she does not regret the circumstances that gave her her son or hate the man responsible for it.

Julia travels to Europe with Doe and her brother, Major Lord Stephen Ives, a diplomat, and part of the British delegation to the Vienna convention. The author perfectly depicts post-Bonaparte Europe: the glamour but also the intrigue that happened during such a tenuous time.

Vienna becomes the backdrop of Julia's stellar rise: she is a wonderful and compassionate friend to Dorothea but she is an even greater asset to the British when her skills in languages proves a useful skill as her compatriots try to figure out friend from foe.

It was heartening to see Julia's triumphant redemption. She proves that she is no longer the brash, reckless young girl that she was and shows that she is courageous and loyal and trustworthy. Her innate goodness shines through as she comes to realize her place in the world.

What wasn't as convincing is the love story between Julia and Thomas. Aside from the very brief initial encounter, they lead very separate lives throughout the novel -- once in a while, the author reminds us that the two still think of each other and wants us to accept that they fell in love forever after the first chapter. Part of my trouble accepting this is that I did not really like Thomas Merritt. He thoughtlessly took something from Julia, like the thief that he is, and never looked back. True, he seems to be a Robin Hood-type character and that the circumstances in his past, which led to his present life, had honorable reasons behind them -- but, I still didn't like him.

I much preferred Lord Stephen Ives, who accepts Julia into his household despite her reputation -- and then grows to admire the strong woman she becomes as they live and work in Vienna together.

..."You see, a peace conference is a delicate thing. Knowledge is power and leverage. Do you understand what I mean?" He could see that she did. She was clever. And beautiful -- though he tried to ignore that -- and she was Arabella Gray's granddaughter. He rattled on. "Part of our diplomatic mission here in Vienna includes doing our best to gather knowledge of what the other delegates want, so we know ahead of time how they will vote on an issue we hold dear, and if they might be convinced to change their vote if it doesn't fit ours." He waited to see if she understood.


He met her eyes, hoping to see understanding in their hazel depths, but she was studying her fingertips.

"I do understand your concern, my lord, and as I have said, I will be certain to knock before entering a room from now on, but you may be assured of my discretion."

His stomach fell to the cinder path. He hadn't been clear at all.

"Our letters will be intercepted and read," he said.

She smiled tentatively. "I have no one to write to, and I do not keep a diary."

"Our conversations will be monitored, reported --"

She looked around the garden in alarm, but the paths were empty, except or the nurse and baby some way off. As she turned, he noticed the way the sunlight played on her dark hair, lighting strands of gold and copper, and the delicate bones of her jaw, the muscles of her neck. She was so slender, so delicate, a lady, not a hardened spy ...
- pp. 91-92

When Thomas finally enters the picture towards the end of the book, the plot focuses heavily on Julia trying to help Thomas redeem himself, as though to prove to the readers that he is worthy of the love and sacrifice that Julia has given. The author delves into Thomas's backstory, attempting to show that he is a sympathetic character and that he and Julia belong together. While Lecia Cornwall writes this part very well, I still can't help but wonder if Julia would have been better off with Stephen.

And here lies my problem: as a novel, this was very well-written and reminded me of Barbara Taylor-Bradford's A Woman of Substance, with Julia as the main focal point. But I'm not certain this was a good historical romance novel -- there wasn't enough romance in the story between Julia and Thomas to satisfy me.

Will I recommend this novel? I would but with a warning that this doesn't read like a traditional historical romance. Will I continue to read Lecia Cornwall? Yes, definitely.

To find out more about Lecia Cornwall and her books, click below:



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