THE AUTUMN BRIDE
Author: Anne Gracie
Michael Joseph RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Light, romantic and easy to read, The Autumn Bride is the first in a new historical romance series from bestselling author Anne Gracie. It’s my first Gracie novel and I’m happy to say it has joined a number invigorating my interest in historical fiction. The Autumn Bride is set in the Regency era, a time when the gap between rich and poor was widening, but a new middle class was rising as the industrial age gained a stronger foothold; the contrast between opulence and poverty was even more sharply defined, while pollution, higher taxes, overcrowding and petty crime were the spin-offs of a society changing faster than it could keep pace. These themes underlie what is first and foremost a romance.
Returning home after her half-day off, Governess Abigail (Abby) Chantry, is delayed by a young woman with shocking news about her sister; just 18, Jane has been kidnapped on her way to her first job and has been taken into a brothel. Abby has just a short window of opportunity to save Jane from being auctioned – men will pay a high price for a virgin, Daisy explains. Abby defies her employer and, with the help of Daisy and another woman, Damaris, Jane is freed … but Abby can’t leave Daisy and Damaris behind, even if it means losing her job. The women move into temporary accommodation with dreams of moving to Bath, but work is hard to get, food expensive and rent even more so. When Jane falls ill, Abby is determined to do what it takes to help her sister and friends escape destitution; she breaks into an abandoned mansion in the hope of finding something to sell, but instead finds Lady Beatrice Davenham, bedridden and terribly neglected.
Lady Beatrice is taken with the feisty Abby and invites the four girls to live with her as her nieces, despite knowing the shady background they want to hide; Abby quickly rousts Lady Beatrice’s predatory servants and sets about bring her protector back to good health. It’s the perfect situation, until Lady Beatrice’s dashing and arrogant nephew, Max, Lord Davenham, returns from the Orient—and discovers an impostor running his household …
The Autumn Bride is a charming read and a believable, fun romance. However, while I enjoyed the smouldering heat between Abby and Max, two headstrong but good-hearted characters, what I really liked was the focus on the women’s bonds with each other. Women, and their need for friendship and talk, were celebrated in a number of ways – through the quick acceptance by Abby of Daisy and Damaris as “sisters”, and Lady Beatrice’s of all the girls as “nieces”, but also with the literary society that formed within the house. I loved the part when Lady Beatrice tells off Max for assuming women know what’s going on in men’s head: “Oh, for heaven’s sake – spare me the thought processes of men!” Love it. To me, Lady Beatrice stole the show. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be about Abby and Max, and it was, but I think Lady Beatrice was a naughty minx in her day.
There are some quite funny parts in the novel as well … there is a certain romantic scene that had me giggling (no, I won’t spoil it), but my giggles were laced with understanding. Let’s just say it was a more believable reflection of a couple’s first time together. I didn’t mind the slow-burn aspect of Abby and Max’s relationship either … it works for me. For those interested in the sensuality scale of the novel, I’d put this at a warm; it’s not overly racy, but it’s enough.
A fun book that’s fast to read, The Autumn Bride is worth a look if you’re into historical romance. I’m keen to read what happens to Abby’s “sisters” so I’ll be back for more Gracie.
Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. This copy was courtesy of Penguin Books Australia.
Bookish treat: When Abby eats syllabub, a traditional English dessert, Max can’t keep his eyes off her. I think some syllabub would be very nice about now.