Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Dark Marquis by Francine Howarth

The Dark Marquis 4 ½ stars

I really enjoyed reading The Dark Marquis. From the beginning, Francine Howarth draws you into a duel for a woman’s honour. That, in itself, is nothing new in Regency Romances, and indeed many parts of the plot are familiar to me from previously read Regency historicals, but there are sufficient plot twists in The Dark Marquis which keep the pace going throughout the story. The writing is excellent; there’s quite complex syntax suitable for the era which is consistently maintained; and really excellent period detail which is neither contrived, nor overt. I was kept on my toes to follow the plot near the beginning, until I understood the roles of some of the characters and decided who the main characters were.

The individuals are well portrayed with their little foibles and strengths, and I found it was in those little weaknesses that Ms Howarth makes a difference and brings freshness to this Regency novel. Any vacillations on the heroine, Estelle’s part, become clear as the story develops. A lady with a ‘past’ trod a very fine line in society and Estelle’s path has a few interesting twists. That very path allows for some fairly sensual detail in the novel which is well written – no cringing virgin common to many Regency novels and yet, Estelle still maintains an outward naivety. The Marquis of Rantchester has quite a history to overcome and I liked how Ms. Howarth dealt with the Regency upper class tendency towards opium use. 

The themes of different sorts of love and loyalties are nicely interwoven throughout, and I found it particularly appealing to read of the support of true friends during an era when gossip was a very damaging thing. The relationship between father and son- between the Duke and the Marquis - is quite a convoluted one, their relations with other characters potentially destructive, though the author ensures that isn’t the outcome. Deception was fairly common among titled men and mistresses, but it makes this part of the plot very believable. The murders are, in a sense, also neatly tied in to love and lack of love relationships- and add a little extra twist to the tale.

Winding up a tale is not always easy, and I found that the ending of The Dark Marquis was less appealing to me. Tying off loose ends is generally a good thing to do, and ‘evil or bad’ characters often get what they deserve, but I’m not sure the last scene worked for me in that it seemed to detract from the heady, happy romantic resolution/s. However, perhaps that’s exactly what Ms. Howarth intended!

Despite a dark secret and aware his father the duke will likely disinherit him for marrying below his rank, Rupert Marquis of Ranchester is nonetheless determined to wed his mistress. But Caroline Lady Somerville, an old flame of Rupert’s has returned from India a widow, and has every intention of once again leading him into vices of the flesh, gambling and the dream smoke.

Nervous but happy about imminent wedlock life becomes Hell for Estelle, when one man’s inner desires lead to blackmail, betrayal leads to revenge, and a string of murders place the duke in the frame as the killer. But what possible reason could the Duke of Leighdon have for terrorising Estelle, for killing the duchess, a portraitist, a whore and Caroline?


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