Trapped at the Altar is the first book in Jane Feather’s new Restoration-era series.
THE PLOT: Ariadne Daunt has lived all her sheltered life in Somerset with a family who became outlaws during the Protectorate. Now Crowell is dead, Charles II is on the throne, and the Daunts want Ari to marry her distant cousin/childhood friend Ivor Chalfont to get the Daunt family back to respectability. Rumor has it that Charles leans Catholic, and everyone know his brother and heir James is unabashedly Catholic. To tread this tightrope, the couple will head to the royal court. Ari will represent the Catholic side of the family and Ivor the Protestant, so either way the Daunts come out winners.
The only problem is that Ari is already in love with someone else, a gentle poet named Gabriel, and has no interest in marrying Ivor. When she’s forced to marry him anyway, she tells Gabriel to meet her later in London and they’ll resume their affair. She tells Ivor that she may be his wife, but she can never possibly love him when she already loves Gabriel. With Ari already planning to wreck the marriage before its begun, can these two ever become a real couple?
MY TWO CENTS: This book is reminiscent of several really good Jane Feather books (Violet, The Silver Rose) and yet doesn’t click all the way. First, Ivor seems much older than 23. (I realize to make them childhood friends, he and 20-year-old Ari had to be in the same ballpark age-wise, but that seems really young.) Second, I don’t feel that lifelong friendship between him and Ari after they’re married. I know there’s obviously friction there, but they seem like an of Feather’s other couples who married as strangers.
One thing I do like about Feather’s books is that her heroines are very rarely virginal young debutantes. Most of her heroines have had previous lovers, or (romance taboo!) have other lovers during the course of the novel. I think this especially rings true for a country-bred hoyden like Ari. On the other hand, she may be somewhat off-putting to some readers who might find her morally challenged. After all, she was betrothed to Ivo for more than a decade, but hooked up with someone else anyway. Is that okay when the betrothal choice wasn’t hers? Does this make her less honorable? (I personally love that this heroine is flawed.)
Also, the setting is unusual for romance books: the West Country, late Restoration period, right before James II becomes king and the Monmouth Rebellion. (Eventually the action moves to London, but you have to figure that Daunt Valley will continue to play an important part in the series.)
NOTE: Ari’s family name according to the version I read is Daunt, not Carfax as advertised in the summary copy.
BOTTOM LINE: I usually find Jane Feather’s books either a solid hit or a solid miss. This one is in between, leaning more toward hit, but still with issues. And I don’t know where the rest of the series is going. I could see the entire thing being built around Ari and Ivor because I don’t really feel like their story was complete and finished…yes, they got to court and wiggled in Charles II’s inner circle, but how does their plan progress? Despite this, I’m sure we’ll see a new couple in the next book. (Maybe Madeleine Covington, the “very junior lady of the bedchamber” to the Duchess of York? You got to figure she’ll be more important once Mary of Modena becomes queen or “Queen Across the Water.”)
TEACUP RATING: Three and a half out of five teacups, with genuine interest for the next book in the series. Looking forward to reading about James II’s ascension and the Monmouth rebellion.
ON SALE DATE: The book will be available in paperback and ebook formats on July 22, 2014.
Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.