I first started reading Victoria Holt books as a pre-teen. I wasn’t allowed to read anything with explicit sex, so I read a lot of historical romances of the chaste type. Regency romances were a favorite, as were gothic novels by the likes of du Maurier and Holt. Even if sex was present, it was off the page, and I likely had no idea what was actually going on.
I still own a number of old paperbacks by Holt, and looking for something quick and not too taxing (given the stress and tensions of the past couple weeks), I grabbed this one. I’ve probably read it before, but it’s been decades, and they all kind of blur together anyway.
This particular novel is about Harriet, daughter of an M.P. She has a limp and, of course, considers herself “plain” and unlovable. Her mother died in childbirth and her father can’t stand the sight of her. Meanwhile, he’s M.P. for a constituency in Cornwall, and Harriet is enthralled with the centuries-old house of Menfreya, ancestral home of the the Menfrey family. Harriet befriends Gwennan Menfrey and develops a crush on Gwennan’s older brother Bevil, though it’s impossible to understand why aside from his good looks. He has no redeeming qualities as far as I can tell, even after reading the entire book.
All of this is fairly typical of Holt’s books. The main character is an average young woman who somehow gets pulled into the orbit of a noble family. There’s a daughter the main character can be friends and go to school with and an older brother for her to swoon over. The main character usually has a “normal” name, while the noble family uses far more decorative monikers. The crush is usually a known playboy, and the main character will doubt that the crush could possibly like or love her. A tragedy or crisis will occur—sometimes several. There will be much suspicion and often an attempted murder. The main character will need rescuing, and the crush will do said rescuing, thus proving his love and loyalty. So go the tropes of such romances.
In the case of Menfreya in the Morning, Harriet loses her father and stepmother in rapid succession, leaving her a considerable heiress. The Menfreys need money, so when Bevil asks Harriet to marry him, there is suspicion that he’s doing it for the dollars (so to speak; they don’t use dollars in Cornwall). Harriet is so besotted with Bevil, she doesn’t seem to care why he wants to marry her anyway. But then a beautiful young woman named Jessica—a woman Bevil once showed considerable interest in—returns, and Harriet begins to suspect an affair. Etc., etc. I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say that this “hero” was far from one. Bevil’s focus is on his own political career, and Harriet practically licks his boots as she strives to gain his approval by learning about politics. She has no apparent interests or hobbies of her own. And at one point marital rape is implied, but Harriet makes excuses for Bevil’s behavior, saying that he was simply showing her that he expected to be obeyed. *gag*
So… Yeah. I couldn’t really like Harriet, and I definitely didn’t care for Bevil. I’m wondering if my tastes have changed over time, or if this is just a weaker book. I have a few others on the shelf I could try, just to compare… But I do really need to get on with A Conjuring of Light, so it may have to wait a bit.