Monday, October 4, 2010

Review: The Promise by Brenda Joyce

Historical fiction has always been my first literary love. In the days when I had a house full of grade school kids, I would inform the family that a certain day would be "Mom's Reading Day." With kids in school and the evening meal in the oven, I would retreat behind my bedroom door with a stack of historical novellas--short, easy to read, and a feast for my mind and a wonderful way to "check out" for a few hours from the mother grind.

My interest started with the classics of Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy,Anya Seton and others. But later on I had a subscription to Harlequin Books and was delighted when I received short but interesting historical novels--just what I needed for my reading days and for those few "reading" moments I allowed myself each night before turning out the light.

My delight in historical romances has never faded. As anyone who visits this blog regularly realizes, my fictional feast has grown to include many other kinds of romance fiction, non-fiction books, and will eventually include some philosophical treatises and possibly some family/self-help books. But the book in question right now is one more delight in my long love affair with historical romance. It is the latest in the De Warenne family saga and is one of those books that helps fill in the gaps that are often appear in love stories, periods of time when critical happenings in the romantic history of a couple just seem to get left out. Thus it is with Alexi and Elysse De Warenne. Parts of their story is told in other novels in this series, but this particular book details their personal encounters, all the way from their childhood, through their six year estrangement, and the renewal of their marriage.

There are relationships that just seem destined to play out and to endure, no matter the circumstances. It would seem that Alexi & Elysse's friendship began when they were mere children, each fascinated with the other, connected by friendship and affection which remained as they grew into their adolescence and beyond. Elysse was the pampered darling of her parents, easily one of the most beautiful women in Ireland and certainly one of the most sought after of all the debutantes of her time. That she was an accomplished flirt was a given. That her heart had always belonged to Alexi was probably not as evident to her as it was to everyone else, but it was true. He always knew that she belonged to him and had even entertained serious thoughts that she would one day be his wife. That is, until he discovered sex, and then he determined that no one woman would ever tie him down or prevent him from enjoying all the women he pleased. Likewise, Elysse believed that it was her right to flirt with every male in sight. She was confused by her responses to Alexi but never considered him a serious suitor. He was just a best friend. Clearly, their future path was in serious danger.

Matters came to a head when Elysse insisted on flirting with a close friend and shipmate of Alexi's who he had brought home to meet his family following a two year absence as captain of his own ship. William Montgomery was his friend, his shipping pilot, but he was also an opportunist who was more than responsive to Elysse's beauty and was led on by her flirting. Against the warnings of Alexi that his friend was not "a gentleman," she allowed Montgomery to take her for a moonlight stroll that turned ugly. Disheveled, distraught and afraid, Alexi rescues Elysse from Montgomery's unwanted attentions, but the encounter becomes an argument which becomes a fight which results in Montgomery's death. Her reputation ruined, Alexi offers to marry her to protect her, but the circumstances are less than fortuitous for their marriage. Angered at her part in the whole debacle and feeling guilty at his own part in the death of his friend, Alexi leaves on a sailing voyage the night of their wedding, refusing to return for six years.

Six years later he returns the hero of the China trading and shipping industry and holder of the speed record. He has a well-earned reputation as having a mistress in every port which he doesn't deny. After all, his marriage is in name only. He feels justified having heard reports that his wife has had her share of lovers in his absence, that she is one of London's most dazzling hostesses and living as an independent woman in every way. Little did Alexi know that his wafe was still a virgin and had remained faithful to him. She refused to get an annulment because she didn't want anyone to know that their marriage had never been consummated.

This is the story of two passionate, really good people who are caught in the throes of a romantic tragedy that just never seems to get any better. Their attraction to one another cannot be denied. Their anger and hurt over the past seems insurmountable. This is a very emotional story, one that certainly held me in its thrall. There were times I wasn't sure they would ever be able to find their way back to one another. This tale is of a love which grows out of deep friendship but which is wounded almost beyond repair. It is a story which is built around the idea that the human spirit can endure almost anything when hope is not dead. But there were occasions when hope, friendship, and possibly love were doomed. It is a story of strength and fidelity, perhaps mishandled and misunderstood, but there all the same. And in the final analysis, Alexi and Elysse had to look deeply into themselves and decide who and what were really important to each of them. Like all good fiction, there is a lesson for the reader and one that can speak to the futility of jeolousy and anger, miscommunication and a refusal to see beyond one's own hurt pride. Love can find a way, but sometimes people make that discovery very difficult.

The De Warenne family is quite large and the novels written about their individual stories have come to result in a significant number of books over the years. Yet it is to Ms Joyce's credit that the energy and vitality in each novel has not diminished throughout the series. Such energy is never easy to sustain. This latest story is well written and is also a historical feast in reference to the development of the shipping trade in England. While the characters and specific companies involved may be fictional, the historical context is not. It is one of the reasons that I appreciate good historical romances. They are fun to read but they are a really great way to learn a lot of history.

So be sure and latch on to this book. It is a great read for romance fans and will please the history fans as well. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

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