Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: An Heiress at Heart by Jennifer Delamere

An Heiress at Heart (Love's Grace #1)
By: Jennifer Delamere
Publisher: Forever


Lizzie Poole's sole romantic indiscretion nearly destroyed her, cloaking her reputation in shame and forcing both her and her brother Tom to flee Europe for Australia following an ill-fated duel. Determined to live a blameless life henceforward, Lizzie never expected to find a woman in the wilds of Australia who might hold the key to her past. Ria shares an eerily similar face and form to Lizzie, so much so that when the two women begin comparing childhood reminscences they become convinced that they are half-sisters -- Lizzie the illegitmate offspring of Ria's nobleman father's affair with a servant.

The years pass and tragedy strikes -- and on her deathbed Ria extracts from Lizzie a radical promise that will change her life forever. She begs Lizzie to return to London as Ria, make amends with her estranged grandmother, the formidable Lady Thornborough, and in so doing reclaim the birthright denied her by the stain of illegitimacy. With nothing to keep her in Australia, and a burning desire to discover the truth about her parentage, Lizzie agrees. Arriving in London as Ria, Lizzie finds herself captivated by her would-be family's kindness and acceptance. The one thing she didn't anticipate were her blossoming feelings for Lord Geoffrey Somerville -- Ria's, and now her own, brother-in-law -- and as such, the one man forbidden to her by law. When a man from Lizzie's past threatens to destroy her by unmasking her scandal-ridden past, Lizzie must decide if she is brave enough to reveal the truth of her identity -- at the risk of destroying her relationship with her new family, and with Geoffrey, forever.

When An Heiress at Heart was released last fall, it caught my attention as being the sole inspy mass market release from Hatchette's Forever imprint. As such, I have to wonder if its trim size and release were perhaps overlooked by many members of its potential target audience. In a mass market-sized novel of this ilk I never expected to find a story as sparkling and well-developed as any trade-length romance. This is a remarkably assured debut that should mark Delamere as a rising star in the genre. 

From the opening pages of Lizzie's story I was captivated by its unique setting and premise. In my reading experience, the Victorian time period is often overlooked in favor of the earlier Regency, and to incorporate Australia and its reputation as something of a haven for the lawless -- or, as in Lizzie and Tom's case, those fleeing the law -- adds a refreshing dash of exotic color to the setting.

Delamere's characters are wonderfully realized, springing to vibrant life on the page. While Lizzie's assumption of Ria's identity is pure soap opera, such a trope has a rich literary tradition (i.e., Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask), and as such can be wildly entertaining. I loved her tasteful, yet unflinchingly honest portrayal of Lizzie's unsavory past -- she is very much a fallen woman by the standards of the day -- a refreshingly honest portrayal of the emotional consequences of sin and the glory of forgiveness and redemption. Likewise Geoffrey is a multi-faceted hero, one in the unique position in "drawing room" romances of this type who was first a vicar, until tragedy forced him to assume the family title and its responsibilities. His abrupt change in circumstances provide a nice, organic opportunity for an examination of the tension between duty and desire, and legalism and grace.

An Heiress at Heart was a delightful surprise. It is no stretch to state that it is one of the strongest inspy romance debuts I've had the pleasure of reading recently. Delamere displays a commendable aptitude for pacing, characterization, and a knack for incorporating relevant historical data (here, the wonders of the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and the Victorian penchant for social reform) that deftly enriches the storyline. Peopling her world with colorful supporting players (I can only hope that Ria's cousin James takes center stage in a subsequent story!), Lizzie and Geoffrey's is a sweetly realized romance threaded with grace and a dash of gritty adventure that leaves me eager to read more of Delamere's work!

About the book:

A New Beginning

A youthful indiscretion has cost Lizzie Poole more than just her honor. After five years living in exile, she's finally returning home, but she's still living a secret life. Her best friend Ria's dying wish was for Lizzie to assume her identity, return to London, and make amends that Ria herself would never live to make. Bearing a striking resemblance to her friend, and harboring more secrets than ever before, Lizzie embarks on a journey that tempts her reckless heart once again . . . 

A committed clergyman, Geoffrey Somerville's world is upended when he suddenly inherits the title of Lord Somerville. Now he's invited to every ball and sought after by the matchmaking mothers of London society. Yet the only woman to capture his heart is the one he cannot have: his brother's young widow, Ria. Duty demands he deny his feelings, but his heart longs for the mysterious beauty. With both their futures at stake, will Lizzie be able to keep up her façade? Or will she find the strength to share her secret and put her faith in true love?


Heidenkind said...

I downloaded this book ages ago because of the positive buzz, but totally forgot about it. Eep!

Unknown said...

@Tasha - I'd forgotten about it myself lol! I hope you enjoy it whenever you get around to reading it. :)