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With all three Middleton sisters getting their happily ever afters, I wondered who Lily Maxton would feature as the next "sister of scandal" and I was really looking excited to see that Julia Forsythe was the heroine of the fourth story. Julia Forsythe is a courtesan, and the author of the very scandalous book, Confessions of a Courtesan. When I read the blurb, I was intrigued: Julia is pregnant with the Marquess of Riverton's child. Their relationship has turned sour, but she is still under contract with the Marquess. She has asked for some time (and distance) and traveled to the Marquess's estate, Blakewood Hall, in order to think about her current predicament. It turns out, her childhood friend, Adam Radcliff works at the same estate, and the two seem to have unfinished business.
I loved the tension between Julia and Adam. Adam is clearly still in love with Julia, despite knowing about her profession. He is very determined, and sincere in his care for his friend. The most emotional moments of the story are when they reminisce about their childhood. You could see Julia's longing for a simpler life, but it is also to her credit that she doesn't regret her decision of becoming a courtesan. In that, Julia is a fighter and a survivor.
At this point in her life, however, I think Julia doesn't know what she wants: she seemed to really want to walk away from being a courtesan, and focus on being a good mother to her unborn child -- and Adam is there, offering her the chance -- but, she doesn't take it. She doesn't tell him about the baby, and she doesn't tell him about the conditions of her contract with the Marquess of Riverton.
I didn't like how Julia treated Adam. I felt very bad for him -- he really believed he knew all he needed to know about Julia, but, really, he didn't. In a really sad sense, Julia was leading him on. Julia believes she was doing what was best for her child -- seeking the protection and patronage of his titled father, but the arrangement isn't very detailed and hinges on the Marquess's pleasure or displesure. I wonder if Julia could have demanded more, or sought a contract that protected her and her child better, because her current arrangement with Riverton has soooo many strings attached. The Marquess of Riverton doesn't really figure into the main story, but he is, definitely, ever-present in Julia's mind, and steers her decisions and actions. When Riverton finally makes an appearance, it's hard to believe that Julia stayed with him for that long -- Riverton is arrogant, and cruel -- and a bit one-dimensional. I guess the author is trying to set the stage for the final book, and making Riverton's transformation (from heartless and uncaring to hero-material) dramatic.
Maxton develops a relationship between Julia and Cassandra, the housekeeper at Blakewood Hall. (Cassandra is the heroine of the last book in this series.) They seem to be the same age, but their positions in life are different: Cassandra has been a widow for many years, and Julia is facing the impending challenges of single motherhood. It's interesting to study these two women: both of them are dependent on the Marquess for their livelihood, but in different capacities: one respectable, the other, not. It's also interesting that both Julia and Cassandra share a history with Adam -- but, Cassandra and Adam's relationship had been resolved months before Julia arrived at the estate. Cassandra serves as confidant, and trusted advisor -- but, above all, I like that Cassandra spoke frankly to Julia -- and called Julia out for being too wishy-washy.
Julia closed her eyes briefly, the ache in her throat spreading to the rest of her body. "You know Adam," she said bluntly.
"It would be unusual for the housekeeper not to know the head gardener," Cassandra replied.
"That's not what I meant," Julia answered with steely resolve. She would face the truth, even if it was something she didn't want to hear.
"I know him," Cassandra replied after a second's pause.
They both recognized they were using the word in the biblical sense. "How long?"
The housekeeper only leveled those cool blue eyes at her. "This is rather hypocritical of you."
"Hypocritical?" she said, unconvincingly, her voice too high. "I'm simply curious."
"You can't stand the thought of him with another woman. It's written all over your face. Is he supposed to remain celibate while you take lover after lover, and they're all printed about in the broadsheets?"
- p. 133 - 134
While this is the first (and only) full-length novel in the series, and I was really expecting a LOT from this story. I had thought the author would have a greater opportunity to expand on the story, the conflict and the characterizations, but, sadly, I felt that there wasn't much development: it seemed to just revolve around Julia's dilemma over the Marquess and Adam. I may be taking the series premise a bit too literally, but, while Julia has a scandalous reputation, she really doesn't do anything scandalous in her own story, and nothing scandalous happens to her.
The Mistake is the fourth instalment in Lily Maxton's Sisters of Scandal series. To find out more about Lily Maxton and her books, click below: