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A Marchioness Below Stairs Paperback – November 4, 2017
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The Amazon Book Review
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About the Author
Alissa Baxter wrote her first Regency romance, The Dashing Debutante, during her long university holidays. After travelling the world, she settled down to write her second Regency romance, Lord Fenmore’s Wager, which was inspired by her time living on a country estate in England. Also the author of two contemporary romances, Send and Receive and The Blog Affair, Alissa currently lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two sons.
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Isabel is no wilting flower. Her keen observations and frustrations with the 19th century ton, the slow momentum of the slave abolitionist movement coupled with her compassion and determination to create not adopt a prescribed life after her husband’s death; leads to some interesting encounters with those both above and below the stairs. The men around her fantastically contrast each other. Each encounter with Isabel reveals a little more of their attitudes and views of a changing world and their expectations of a woman’s place therein. Little twists here and there together with the answering of lingering questions from Lord Fenmore’s Wager keep you turning pages a long time after “I’ll just read for a few minutes more…”
A cherry on top of this very enjoyable read are the Author’s notes at the end of the book. Aside from showing how well Alissa captures the Regency context, they are interesting with tit-bits of information like that of Regency Dinner Party Etiquette having a prescribed time to talk to someone on your left and then when to turn to talk to the person on your right.
Isabel Axbridge, age 29, is the Marchioness of Axbridge. She had once been engaged to Lord Julian Fenmore, but she broke off the engagement to marry an old Marquess. While he was kind to her, she was never a wife to him. Her father’s finances were in bad shape and he needed her to marry the wealthy man. Now after 10 years, she is a widow and living with her mother Mrs. Beresford. Today, she sees Julian and is able to apologize for breaking the betrothal. He is now engaged to Miss Hamilton. The old gossips of Bath are wondering if Julian’s engagement has upset Isabel. A lady accompanied by her grandson, Mr. Marcus Bateman, stopped by to warn her of this gossip. As she speaks to Marcus, she finds she does not care for the man and feels he has a past.
Isabel’s mother has been asked to hostess a house party for her Cousin George at Chernock Hall as his sister has taken ill and will be unable to do so. Unfortunately, Isabel learns that Marcus Bateman will also be at the house party.
At the party, Marcus’s comments continue irritate Isabel. An emergency arises when the chef becomes ill with influenza. Isabel insists on taking over as she has had some cooking experience. However, no one must discover this as a Marchioness cooking would be unseemly. Soon, she is joined by Marcus who had worked as a chef when he lived in America. The meals are tasty, the guests are happy, and they don’t know who has been doing the cooking.
Before long, Isabel’s mother marries her cousin George and Isabel lives with them. This means that she sees a lot of Marcus. Although she has sworn to never marry again because she relishes her freedom, her attraction to Marcus increases. Will she fall in love and truly become a real wife?
This book has lots of quotes by Mary Wollstonecraft about women’s rights plus much discussion about the slave trade. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without descriptions of that dreadful English weather, plus a rogue or two. I didn’t have much patience with Isabel but as she has led a isolated life from a young age, it can be understandable.
I voluntarily reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy of this book.
I always have a bit of an issue with a book where ‘everyone’ but the heroine can see that the couple are just perfect for each other. It smacks of gaslighting, and indeed everyone seems to be determined to convince Isabel that what she THINKS she wants isn’t really what she wants at all.
While this book contains lots of interesting historical facts about slavery and the pushback against it within certain segments of the educated upper class, it comes across as heavy-handed at times in the righteousness of the heroine’s beliefs. Isabel was ‘sold’ to a wealthy elderly husband instead of being allowed to marry the man she loves, and to her credit, she refuses to allow anyone to compare her plight to that of slaves. While Bateman appears to be playing both sides, working with Isabel’s abolitionist uncle and befriending a notorious plantation owner and former slave trader, Isabel is quite right to distrust him… but everyone still tries to push them together anyway.
I was really rather surprised that Marcus was her only eligible suitor - the villain of the piece doesn’t really count. Considering Isabel’s youth, beauty, wealth and social position, she should have been positively swarmed by suitors, titled and otherwise, to choose from.
My favourite parts of the book were when Isabel and Marcus were working together in an effort to keep everyone fed, and I was disappointed that section didn’t last long, because I felt it was the one time they truly ‘clicked’ as a couple. The cookery sections were intriguing and well-researched, and I’d have enjoyed seeing more of them.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed this book but didn’t love it. Four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.
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