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Seven years ago, Julie Anne Long released a book that introduced us to the world of Pennyroyal Green, a small town in Sussex, where the Everseas and the Redmonds lived. Like the Montagues and Capulets, the Everseas and the Redmonds have been engaged in a feud that no one really knows how it started -- there are whispers of Isaiah Redmond and Isolde Eversea, the current heads of the families, but there are greater whispers about Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea, the children of these families.
It's amazing how Julie Anne Long created these two characters: in the first 10 books, Lyon and Olivia don't actively participate in their siblings' stories, but they anchor the entire series, and their presence is very clearly and strongly felt by everyone in Pennyroyal Green. Their love is, at once, the fairy tale and the stuff of legends that people aspire to, and the cautionary tale that people tell to warn young lovers of the terrible, soul-crushing consequence of falling in love.
Love. The word had once felt infinite, magical. A word like "Heaven" or "universe."
And now it felt barbed and foolish. ...
- loc 573 to 584
Family rivalries often end in tragedy, and that seemed to be the case with Lyon and Olivia: Lyon away at sea, and Olivia having a very persistent, very devoted suitor. There is an undeniable allure to the myth of star-crossed lovers, and, when I first read about Lyon and Olivia, I kept hoping that, maybe, they would be the ones whose story would end differently. But, how? Slowly, as every member of the Redmond and Eversea families settled down and married, the chances of Lyon and Olivia being together become slimmer and slimmer.
I recently stumbled upon this quote from Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, "I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning." Unfortunately, when you are Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea, every beginning has the same inevitable conclusion: both will need to face the choice: their families or themselves. Family love and loyalty run deep in both sides of the family, and, after we have glimpsed into the lives of the Redmonds and Everseas, it seems unfair and impossible, especially for Olivia, to make the choice.
There is a polarity to Lyon Redmond: once the golden child, now the black sheep. Isaiah Redmond pinned all of his hopes and dreams on his eldest son, and everyone had expected Lyon to follow in his father's footsteps -- and, ironically, he did: he fell in love with an Eversea (like his father). One wonders how Lyon would've grown up if he had stayed in Pennyroyal Green, but we would never know -- instead, we see what happens when Lyon stopped being defined by his family and by his father.
Yesterday, Lyon would have been curious to hear the name. He'd, in fact, had several names in mind not too long ago. Yesterday, Lady Arabella would have seemed a perfectly reasonable, indeed, desirable choice. It was a choice he understood, and he'd been raised with the knowledge that making a spectacular marriage, and conferring the associated honor and influence upon his family for generations to come, was his duty.
He knew, definitively, that it no longer mattered what his father said.
Lyon now knew who and what he wanted.
And before yesterday, he hadn't even known what it was to truly want.
- loc 1209 to 1221
And, what about Olivia? There's a bit of Odysseus's Penelope in Olivia. Though the circumstances of Lyon's departure is different from Odysseus, like Penelope, Olivia was left at Pennyroyal Green while Lyon went on his personal quest. Like Penelope, Olivia had to fend for herself against suitors. Like Penelope, Olivia's strength and character shine through as she bravely weathers the stares, the whispers, the pity, and the judgment of the people around her. Olivia is fragility, but also immense strength.
God, but she was infinitely weary of being a sport for the wager-happy wastrels at White's. She did not want to be an event.
- loc 340
In a sense, their love story continued while they were apart -- everything that Lyon did while he was away was to prove to Olivia that he was worthy of her. I love how Julie Anne Long structured this story -- juxtaposing past and present, and focusing on a wedding. In the past, the central issue was Lyon's expected engagement to Lady, Arabella, the Duke of Hexford's daughter. It was the wedding Isaiah Redmond had planned and dreamed of for his son. In the present, it's Olivia's wedding to Viscount Landsdowne -- despite time, distance, and growing older and wiser, it seemed that history was doomed to repeat itself, because Lyon remains a Redmond and Olivia remains an Eversea -- and the enmity between their families has not lessened.
It's hard to explain why their story affects me (and many other fans of the Pennyroyal Green series), but it does. There's such a power and resonance to it, and there's something about it that we can all relate to, and something about it that sets it apart from everything else that we've read. I'm not certain if it's an example of breaking the fourth wall (perhaps a reverse of it), but I think this is one of those books where the reader (and the characters in the story) are all unanimous in our sentiment. "Finally."
Perhaps, the one weak point in the story was the epilogue. I think it ruins the finality of Lyon and Olivia, and, instead, seems to insinuate that the "curse" between the Redmonds and Everseas continue to live on.
The Legend of Lyon Redmond is Book 11 in Julie Anne Long's stellar Pennyroyal Green series. To find out more about Julie Anne Long and her books, click below: