Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Elizabeth Hoyt - Once Upon a Maiden Lane

Miss Mary Whitsun is far too intelligent to fall for the rakish charms of a handsome aristocrat. But when the gentleman in question approaches her in a bookshop, mistaking her for his fiancée, Lady Johanna Albright, the flirtatious encounter only raises more questions. Could Mary, a servant raised in a St Giles orphanage, actually be Lady Joanna's long-lost twin sister? If so, Mary has been betrothed since birth—to the rakishly handsome artistocrat himself.
Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, is far too intrigued by Mary to let her go so easily. He's drawn to her sharp mind, indomitable spirit, and the fiery way in which she dismisses him—ladies simply don't dismiss Lord Blackwell. But as Mary makes her first hesitant steps into society, she can't help but wonder if she truly has a place in Henry's world—or in his heart.

Comment: The Maiden Lane series by author Elizabeth Hoyt is probably one of the historical romance series with more success among readers and it has extended to 12 books. The author also kindly wrote two extra novellas, to tidy up some character's fates and to allow the faithful reader some time to say goodbye. This novella is one of them and it is centered on Mary Whitsun, one of the girls raised at the orphanage that was the uniting element in several of the stories.

In this novella, we follow Mary Whitsun, who we know works for Lady Caire, heroine from book #1, and how she feels content with her lot in life. She is a servant but she is well treated, respected and is taken into consideration by her employers, a fact not many other young servants could count on.
When the story begins, she is at a book shop trying to decided if she is indeed buying a book and if so, which one it could be, since she needs to save in order to buy one and she wants to be careful with her choice. Suddenly, a man approaches and starts talking to her, something Mary doesn't want to allow because she knows how and why men talk to women like her, meaning servants, but what he says makes her think he is a lunatic. That she could be a lady or a lady's lost twin sister is quite a fantasy to make conversation. She escapes but doesn't know he has her followed and that is only the beginning...

The reality is that the idea for this story is slightly silly even though not totally impossible, especially in historical scenarios without the extra help of DNA analysis.
Mary Whitsun embodying someone lost at birth (sort of) and growing up as a servant while the rest of her family is well off could be the start of an interesting full length plot and I do think this idea had the possibilities to work because the author has two twists or huge plot moves (depending on how one sees it) in all this and I feel the end of the book wasn't as well structured as the idea merited.

The situation created by having Henry, viscount Blackwell finding Mary does seem a little too contrived. However, I wouldn't have minded if it weren't for the detail he is actually Mary's intended. Well, the intended of the lady Mary is supposed to be. I can understand why this ruse is used to explain Henry's presence in the picture and the reasons why are developed through the story but they still feel too weird. Of course this also means the romance is too quick and too superficial in my point of view. Especially since Mary had that opinion of male aristocrats regarding servants.

As for Mary's situation... well, this is obviously the center of the plot and the driving force behind the conflict. Can Mary cope with her new status? Can she let go of a life being a servant to now being a lady? What a pity this novel is so short because this had great possibilities to be developed and at the end I just felt Mary's acceptance of things was too quick. The way she slowly develops relationships with the rest of her "family" and those they interact with could have been a great way to make the comparison between both lifestyles. This is something rarely seen in serious romances or if it is, it's not always focused on the details I'd like to see, for instance Mary's lengthy consideration of her new role, of the things she doesn't know to do, the confidence she can't have, the likely backing into what she knows, perhaps a heavier bout of shyness...because Mary isn't a gold digger, I mean. She is sensitive and all a romantic lead is supposed to be like.

It was still good to see how she related well to her former employer and other female characters who have been protagonists in other books but I think the author did exploit the romance too much for sensual reasons and I think that shouldn't have mattered so much as creating the perfect environment for their relationship to be a gradual but believable one.

Of course this was I thought almost to the end of the story when a huge plot twist happens. And I was like, what? I didn't see it coming.
This made it possible for a fascinating emotional situation to arise, for some inner conflict to be developed but since there was a page limit, what a disappointment I was left with because the whole thing was practically brushed aside! 
Then, the end comes and, again!, another unusual situation happens, totally unlike what I predicted and I'm still not certain if I should feel amazed the author chose to end things like that or even more upset because I do like the fairy tale illusion in romances.
Whatever is it I can just say this story did make me think but what a terrible waste the author only got to novella size!! So much (unused) potential...
Grade: 7/10

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