My Lady Gisborne by Charlotte Hawkins (2011)

Book review: My Lady Gisborne by Charlotte Hawkins (Amazon Kindle, 2011)

Lady Evelyn Gisborne desires to be a proper young noble-woman, but independence runs strong in her blood. She follows her heart as well as her head, and temptation soon beckons her in the form of a handsome rogue. René Jean- Bastien is clever, bold…and forbidden, for she has been promised to another.

Simon Jean-Carré, Marquis of Laroque, is a born soldier. His life is commited to the pursuit of battle and the honor of the knight’s code. When he journeys to the Gisborne estate, his only intention is to meet his promised bride. But he soon finds himself entwined in the life of a most unusual family…and falling in love with the woman he has sworn to keep at a distance.

Evelyn is torn between two loves. Will she choose the man to whom she is promised…or the dashing thief who has stolen her heart?

Set a number of years after The Tempest, the Gisbornes are still living in France, and they have several children, all of which are now roundabout 20. My Lady Gisborne focuses on one of these children, Evelyn, who meets a handsome rogue, René. However, she’s promised to a Marquis, Simon, and the story is about her struggle to decide between the two of them.

Well, sort of, anyway. One, she fancies, the other one, she’s supposed to get married to, and she fancies him too. And I think therein lies my problem with the story.

I finished this book a few months ago, but have delayed writing the review because I wasn’t really sure what to say. That I wasn’t as crazy about this one than I was the previous ones by the same author? Well, that happens, such is life. I also thought that if I leave it for a bit, time will tell what remains in memory, as I’ve then had time to digest it. This is it.

This review will contain spoilers.

Okay, first things first: it’s well-written, I like the characters and having read a couple of the author’s books (this is my third), I’ve come to expect no less from her – especially since I really loved the other two novels. I think that’s why I was a little disappointed by this one.

To start with, we get an introduction – a bridge between The Tempest and the story we’re about to be presented with, so that those who haven’t read the previous novel don’t feel left out. Thing is, the introduction is way too long. If it’s to set the scene and to introduce the characters as children, and give an insight into the Gisborne parents, it could’ve been done a lot quicker. Instead, it’s more of a novella in length before we get to the actual story. Shouldn’t an introduction be just that, an introduction to what we’re about to read, not a big story itself?

Then finally, we get to the main feature … and that’s where it gets a little confused. As a reader, I’m never sure if I’m meant to believe Evelyn is meant to live happily ever after with René or Simon. The story is set up so that we believe that René is The One, and that Simon is a cold fish who will lose his betrothed in the end for the more worthy suitor. Except then it turns out that Simon is just a little reserved, and is actually a great guy, to which it feels wrong of Evelyn to still fawn over René. Who does she think she is, toying with a good man like that?

And then they actually get married, Evelyn and Simon. Because now she loves him (having seen that he’s indeed a great guy), and wants to be with him. Wait, what? So now they’re the ones meant to live happily ever after? What about René? Was he just there as a big plot device to give her some angst, which she overcame pretty much as soon as Simon kissed her?

It feels as if it’s two stories forced into one, and they don’t work very well together. It feels as if either the story should have been about Evelyn and René or Evelyn and Simon. Because it’s not even Evelyn and René and Simon – once she’s married, she’s not exactly running off with René so they can be together after all, she’s pretty much all about her devoted hubby. So as a reader, I’m scratching my head a bit wondering what sort of a romance this is, because there was a conflict, and then there sort of wasn’t anymore, because she got married to Simon and is happy. Very confusing.

If it’s meant to be an atypical romance, then … well, in my opinion, this isn’t the way to do it. The payoff of a romance is that the couple fall in love but are kept apart for one reason or another, and then finally, get together at the end. By those rules, Simon should realise Evelyn is not the woman for her, so she’s free to marry René … or the story should be Simon trying to court her, winning Evelyn’s heart and end with her marrying him. Not “let’s get married half-way through”.

Which, incidentally, is another thing I don’t like, and which I pointed out when I reviewed The Tempest. The wedding ceremony is there, word for word, again. And, again, it’s not for dramatic purpose (think Mr. Briggs bringing in Mr. Mason at a very strategic moment in Jane Eyre), but simply for the fact of … I don’t know, being cute? I’m all for cute, but not when it feels out of place and for no reason, other than dragging the scene out.

If nothing’s going to happen (this includes a character wondering if they’re doing the right thing), all we need knowing that they’ve gotten married. Perhaps have a short something to show them entering or leaving, but that’s all we need. To have page after page of a ceremony isn’t wonderfully romantic, it’s just, well, boring. 🙁

Especially considering the ceremony is obviously taken from fairly modern times (read somewhere it was early 19th or 20th century or something?) and even if my knowledge of wedding ceremonies of times past are limited to having read other historical fiction or even just watched films set in that period, it’s still … I know ceremonies evolve, so I really don’t believe that a ceremony in the 1200s (before both Martin Luther and Henry VIII) is almost word perfect to your modern day standardised Protestant wedding ceremony. I don’t buy it.

If you as an author don’t know history well enough to portray something with a degree of accuracy (which is fair enough because no one can know everything about everything), I’d rather the scene was skipped than as a reader, having to read through something that I find impossible to believe, and that I also don’t enjoy as it doesn’t serve any sort of purpose for moving the story itself forward. This is where phrases like “kill your darlings” and “omit needless words” come in, not to mention “less is more”.

There’s also a side story about one of Evelyn’s brothers that felt very rushed, but I think that is a story being written separately, so will be interesting to find out more when that’s done to fill in the gaps. (One minute, he hates someone and what they’ve done, and then he sulks for a while, and then he has no issue with what that person did, and in fact, he loves her. How did he manage to do a 180 on the moral judgement of her being a despicable harlot so suddenly?)
Sometimes I also felt as if the story was set more in the late 1700s or early 1800s than 1200s. The big manor, for instance, sounds more like a mansion rather than the dingy castles that served as manors back in the day. But that’s by the by, because the story is about people and their relationships, not big houses.

My Lady Gisborne is obviously focused on Evelyn rather than her dad, and I miss Guy. There’s no real way around it, though, because this novel isn’t meant to be about him, it’s about his daughter, and the (I presume) series isn’t called “Guy of Gisborne”, it’s “The Gisbornes”, meaning that yes, the focus will not just be on the former lackey of the Sheriff of Nottingham, but also his family. That said, both Guy and Cassia of course feature in My Lady Gisborne, and it’s nice to see them again. They’ve both matured a lot since The Tempest, but that’s what 20-odd years will do to you. Guy as a protective father is quite funny to read about, because when he’s protective … he’s very protective. 😀

And that’s one of the things I really liked about the novel – good characters. Evelyn showed a spirit worthy of her mother at times. It’s well-written too, which I definitely expected it to be, and it’s funny in parts too. For those who thought The Tempest was too racy, there’s less sex in My Lady Gisborne. I personally didn’t mind those parts of the previous novel, so the lesser frequency of it here was still not an issue. There’s a bit of it, still, so if you’re really not into sex scenes one bit, you might want to skip those parts, or at least skim over them.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel. It might not sound like it, but I did. I perhaps sympathised more for Simon than Evelyn at times, but that’s by the by. It’s a decent read and I’m happy to have read it, and would recommend it as well, but in an “it has some problems, but yeah, it’s alright” type way rather than “OMG, you have GOT to read this, it’s freakin’ AWESOME!!” I like the setting of Medieval southern France, even though the Cathars don’t get as much as a mention, and I love Guy of Gisborne. Just wish there was more of him. But there you go. 3 out of 5 wailing babies.

Thank you to the author for giving me a review copy of this novel! Charlotte (a pen name of Sarah Pawley) is a fellow blogger, and her blog is called From the Quill Tip – why not pop by and see what other writings she’s up to? 🙂

My Lady Gisborne by Charlotte Hawkins is currently available as an eBook for Kindle on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

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