RogerBW's Blog

A Modest Independence, Mimi Matthews 14 July 2023

2019 Victorian romance. Jenny the vicar's daughter left home to be a lady's companion. Now the lady's married, but has settled a moderate amount of money on her. So she decides to go to India and track down the truth of what happened to the lady's brother.

This is more of a connection between books than I expect in a modern romance series. Jenny was the solid and practical companion to Helena in The Matrimonial Advertisement, and Tom Finchley was the solicitor acting for Helena; they've clearly started to fall in love even before he spontaneously decides to accompany her on the trip to India to smooth her way. (Even with servants, a lady alone will have a harder path than one travelling with her "brother".)

Which is perhaps where the problems arise. They already care for each other; there aren't barriers of class or fortune in their way. There's decorum to be kept, with greater or lesser success; there's lots of period travelogue, which I quite enjoyed but the research is very much showing; there's the detective story of talking with various people about what really happened at the Siege of Jhansi (part of the Indian Rebellion of 1857).

But what there isn't, for the most part, is a development of the relationship. The basic barrier is set up pretty quickly: he has a life in London that he loves and that lets him do some good, while she wants to travel and see the world. And the resolution is… that once she gets a chance to try it, she finds living abroad has turned to ashes without him, so she changes her mind (though there will clearly be significant foreign travel in their future). It doesn't feel true to the character of Jenny as presented here, and certainly not to the strong and determined woman she was in the earlier book.

There are bits that work very well. They do at least mostly talk to each other rather than just go off in a huff when the other mis-speaks. Tom is a thinker rather than a macho idiot, but he also realises how the evidence of having thought about things can be disconcerting.

I liked it, overall, but I didn't love it.

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Previous in series: The Matrimonial Advertisement | Series: Parish Orphans of Devon | Next in series: A Convenient Fiction

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