Saturday, December 28, 2019

Review - A Heart's Rebellion

Original Title: A Heart's Rebellion
Series: London Encounters, #2
Author: Ruth Axtell
Published: March 4th, 2014

Publisher: Revell

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Not bad. Not bad at all. Actually, I’m surprised. Of how much I liked this book, and of Ruth Axtell’s writing style, which became better in this story. One of the first things I noticed is that the book seems to have a mix of Jane Austen elements in it. As I read, I couldn’t help noticing a lot of things from Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, like the hero being the second son of a wealthy family, who is a clergyman (as both Edmund Bertram and Henry Tilney are), a heroine who has two very different suitors, one of them honourable and the other one, a scoundrel, an elder brother who is a reprobate, and eventually falls ill… Everything set on the Regency London society, which, funnily enough, never appeared in Jane Austen’s books (except for a brief mention in Lady Susan).

One of the first things I noticed, that is very well done, is how realistic Jessamine Barry is as a character. I think we have all been there at one point of our lives, with our hearts broken and our expectations in tatters, believing God forgot about us. Her character is deep that way, being fully real, as her attitude and reaction is natural, although a little tiring from time to time, because all she can think of is Rees’s rejection. Her broken heart is written as one of the worst expressions for a woman in her time period, and most of all, a Christian woman. In society, even today, there’s a constant scrutiny about what a person does and does not, and for Jessamine, being in pain, but constantly hearing about Rees and his wife, and most of all, that she is young, beautiful, and pregnant with his child, is like being stabbed over and over again. After feeding that dream for so long, being encouraged by Megan and her mother, it’s only natural that she is bitter, sad, and can’t give her attention to another man, no matter how nice or gentlemanlike he is.

I liked Lancelot Marfleet, and I noticed that he is realistic, too, in the sense that he carries the burden of being his family’s only hope, in despite of not believing it to be God’s purpose for him, and he feels constantly divided. He’s convinced he’s not meant to inherit a title; he’d rather be in India as a missionary than in a drawing room or a ballroom. His brother has been married for ten years, but he and his wife could never have children, so now it’s his responsibility to beget an heir, and to take his brother out of gaming dens, to salvage his family’s good name. I liked that his interest in Jessamine was genuine, in despite of her rejection, and I especially liked the fact that he had other interests besides the woman he falls in love with, and his duties as a vicar. More often than not, characters in romance novels tend to be very flat, their entire lives being their love interests, never showing any other passion, or signs of having living a life before them. And I liked that it wasn’t Lancelot’s case.

And talking about passions, Lancelot’s biggest one is botany, and that was what tired me a little in this book. Scientific names, constant naming of plants and describing of flowers… Not wrong, but too much. I know that the characters had botany in common and they used it to bond, but still, it was tiresome. It slowed down the book a tiny bit for me. But it gave an awesome frame for their first kiss, in the Kew Gardens, and although Jessamine rejected him for that, it was still passionate, romantic, and beautiful.

Someone I loved in this book was Céline, now married to Rees. I liked how Jessamine, even though she wanted to hate her, just couldn’t, and Céline became a good friend to her, treating her with respect and even offering a ball for her and Megan, for their coming out in society. She knew about Rees and Jessamine’s past, and also knows that he left her because he fell in love with her. And even though she knew Jessamine had genuine reasons to hate her, she still prayed for her and called her “my sister”, and when she disappeared in the ball, she helped to find her with real concern. She acted both as a Christian, and a lady, honouring her own name, her husband, and her friends, in despite of knowing that Jessamine felt less than love for her.

One of the things I liked the most about Jessamine and Lancelot was the way changes came into their lives, and the people who started the book, and the ones who finished it, weren’t the same. These two characters are written in a realistic way, that face the consequences of their decisions and actions, and take up the challenges of life in despite of it not being the way they want, or think it’s meant for them. One the one hand, it’s noticeable how the Jessamine who loved Rees, and the one who loves Lancelot, is different, because it’s also a different kind of love. Jessamine not only loved him, but the dreams she had and that were encouraged her whole life, but in this story she learns that when God closes a door, He opens a window, because true love goes beyond what society dictates, and because, without her broken heart, she wouldn’t have met Lancelot. And as for him, I liked how he helped Jessamine get closer to God, and even when he could no longer be a vicar, having the responsibility to take over everything his brother was supposed to inherit, hadn’t he died, he understood that it’s not necessary to pledge yourself to the church to show you are a Christian. I liked that Lancelot understood he could still work for God and use his own daily life as a testimony of his beliefs, in despite of not being able to fulfil what he thought was the thing for him in life, that was being a vicar.

I liked that in both books in the duology, both Rees and Lancelot help their ladies with their faith, and help them to live according to what God has planned for them. There’s even a reminder of God saying “vengeance is mine”, and that we need to trust Him, for His justice will be delivered at the right moment, and not a minute later. Even though we get angry, and impatient, and believe that He has forgotten us, as it happens to Jessamine.

Just, there’s something I want to mention, that made the book lose points, and made the feminist inside of me get very angry. Jessamine changed her appearance, cut her hair and wore striking dresses with deep necklines, because of her heart’s rebellion and her pain, things that, of course, led her to attract the attention of unwanted men, who threatened to ruin her reputation. St. Leger even drugged her, kidnapped her, and could have raped her, hadn’t Lancelot and Captain Forrester arrived in time to the rescue. And even after she was safe, back in Céline’s house, the scandal barely silenced, she felt guilty because she was completely convinced she deserved what had happened to her. Her anger, her flirting, her dresses and her attitude… And that makes me so ANGRY! The pervert of St. Leger kidnaps her and takes her to an inn, treating her as he would treat a prostitute, almost raping her, but she is the one facing ruin, she is the one who carries the guilt of what happened, while St. Leger walks away with no consequences for him! The whole thing is left as something she had coming because of how she dressed and how she flirted, but nobody says anything to him! Oh, how I would have liked one of the men shooting him, just to make him pay. But it didn’t happen, sadly.

Anyway, the good thing that came from this is that, even though Jessamine considers herself ruined and unmarriable, Lancelot still prays for her and acts out of love, in despite that he saw her at her worst. His love was genuine, because any other man would have ended any kind of relationship with her after finding her in such a compromising position. But that only proves that his interest was real, and still thought she deserved to be loved, in despite of her mistakes. She wasn’t the perfect woman, he was able to see it, and still, he loved her. That’s why I like him and I was glad when they were married, and could be happy together, after everything that happened.

So, long story short, A Heart’s Rebellion is a good book, better than I expected, and I wouldn’t discard more books by Ruth Axtell in the future. If you like overall clean, wholesome Regency romances, you should give her a try!

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