A Woman Entangled
Bantam / June 25, 2013 / $7.99 print & digital
Kate Westbrook has dreams far bigger than romance. Love won’t get her into London’s most consequential parties, nor prevent her sisters from being snubbed and looked down upon—all because their besotted father unadvisedly married an actress. But a noble husband for Kate would deliver a future most suited to the granddaughter of an earl. Armed with ingenuity, breathtaking beauty, and the help of an idle aunt with connections, Kate is poised to make her dreams come true. Unfortunately, a familiar face—albeit a maddeningly handsome one—appears bent on upsetting her scheme.
Implored by Kate’s worried father to fend off the rogues eager to exploit his daughter’s charms, Nick Blackshear has set aside the torch he’s carried for Kate in order to do right by his friend. Anyway, she made quite clear that his feelings were not returned—though policing her won’t abate Nick’s desire. Reckless passion leads to love’s awakening, but time is running out. Kate must see for herself that the charms of high society are nothing compared to the infinite sweet pleasures demanded by the heart.
Cecilia Grant’s third novel, A Woman Entangled, once again features a couple with substantial and believable obstacles in the way of their having a life together. The story is told with Grant’s trademark complex characterization and snappy dialogue, with some literary references for added spice. The various conflicts, most relating to marriage and its effects upon one’s family, expand upon ideas put forth in Pride and Prejudice, which Kate is borrowing from the lending library in the first chapter. There are later references to Emma and the titular character’s relationship with Mr. Knightley. Kate approves of marriages made for sensible reasons, and feels that marrying an unsuitable person, merely for love, is not only a selfish act but can cause great harm to others.
Kate is physically beautiful and attractive to men. She’s determined to use those advantages to better both her own social status and that of her family through marriage. Kate is not a social climber for her own benefit; due to an unwise marriage, her parents and siblings are entirely estranged from her father’s mother, brother, and other relatives, who hold a higher place in society. Her family’s disgrace causes problems for, most obviously, one of her younger sisters, but she also feels that her father continues to suffer from the estrangement. Mirroring their difficulty, Nick’s brother recently married unwisely (in A Gentleman Undone), thus damaging the social prospects of the Blackshear siblings. The scandal is particularly relevant to Nick, who’s a rising barrister with hopes of serving in Parliament. Nick’s social capital is everything if he wishes to have the future he’d planned, but he’s torn, because he loves his brother. He spends most of the novel trying to find the right path regarding his brother and the former courtesan whom Will married.
My favorite part of the novel is Kate’s family, whom I hope will appear in many future installments. Her father practices law, while her mother, a former actress, gave up her career for marriage but still occasionally teaches oratory; both parents encourage wild debate among their four daughters at the dinner table. The two youngest sisters are still in school.
I particularly enjoyed Kate’s outspoken bluestocking sister Viola. Viola’s strong opinions on the rights of women and how society should operate are reassuring to a modern reader, but mortify Kate, who only wants to blend in to society and be accepted. Viola focuses her energies on the book she is writing, an update of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. She drags most of her conversations around to the topic of her book, or the topics she wishes to write about, which I found endearing. She never fails to speak her mind, and is a fearless debater. In particular, she has great scorn for the shallow falsity of aristocrats.
“Berkeley Square?” The way Vi pronounced it, you’d think she was naming the alley where the meanest residents of St. Giles went to empty their chamber pots.
“Berkeley Square, indeed. I have a letter for Lady Harringdon.”
…“On what possible subject can you be writing to that … woman?” She knew how to pack inordinate amounts of meaning into a pause, Viola did, this time suggesting she’d groped for a word suited to Lady Harringdon’s perfidy and found none strong enough.
…Viola walked faster, swinging Vindication, volume one, in a pendulum motion as though she were winding up to brain one of that family with it. “Good lord, Kate, do you secretly correspond with the dowager Lady Harringdon as well? With all the aunts and uncles who refuse to know us? I would have thought you had more pride than to toady to such people.”
Aside from being an entertaining character, Viola’s views on society and relationships provide a dramatic foil to Kate’s point of view. Viola has a point of view more amenable to a modern reader, but she helps to highlight the historical strictures on women, shown through Kate’s opinions.
Kate…loved her sister. Indeed she loved her whole family. But was it so unreasonable of her to crave a life in which people valued courtesy, consideration, and etiquette, and recognized that there was more to be thought of, when delivering a letter, than whether the person on the other end could afford to pay the postage? Was it so wrong for her to want to not be nothing to people who shared her name and her blood?
…if she were ever to write a novel, it would be the opposite of a love story. Her hero and heroine would choose duty over their hearts’ desire, that their children need never be taxed for a romantic indulgence that was none of their own.
… A beautiful woman did well to be heartless. And if she hadn’t quite attained the state herself, at least she could make such a show as would convince all the rest of the world.
Cecilia Grant is swiftly becoming one of my favorite historical romance authors, with her complex characters and thoughtful explorations of how their historical period shapes them. If you love multifaceted stories, definitely give her work a try!
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