Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1767 and 1775)
The Duke of Rockliffe is 36 years old, head of his house, and responsible for his young sister, Nell. He is, therefore, under some pressure to choose a suitable bride. Whilst accompanying Nell to what he speedily comes to regard as the house-party from hell, he meets Adeline Kendrick – acid-tongued, no more than passably good-looking yet somehow alluring. Worse still, her relatives are quite deplorable – from a spoiled, ill-natured cousin to a sadistic, manipulative uncle. As a prospective bride, therefore, Adeline is out of the question. Until, that is, a bizarre turn of events cause the Duke to throw caution to the wind and make what his world will call a mésalliance.
I adored The Mésalliance, the second in the Rockliffe series, even more than The Parfit Knight, if that’s possible. How can Stella Riley continue to improve upon perfection? Everyone of her book of I read, or in this case listen to, enthrals me more.
The Duke of Rockliffe, whom we met in The Parfit Knight, is doing his brotherly duty and reluctantly attending a house party with his younger sister, Nell. At this party he makes the acquaintance of Nell’s friends, twins Diana and Althea Franklin. He is also surprised to see a young woman whom he had met a few times eight years earlier. At that time Adeline Kendrick was a girl of sixteen, quite evidently gently born, but happily running wild. On investigation he is told that she is an orphan and lives with her paternal grandfather. The girl had made enough of an impression on him that he remembers her, but although the young woman he sees now is recognisable, she is also drastically changed.
A close relative of the Franklin family, Adeline has been coerced into becoming the much despised companion of her aunt, and is treated little better than a servant. She has learnt, the hard way, to hold her tongue, but occasionally, using her intelligence and quick wit, is able to deliver a well-deserved barb to her persecutors, and in the process retains her dignity and self-respect.
There is conniving and matchmaking in the air; Diana, who has always been encouraged by her mother to believe herself incomparable, is in reality a beautiful, vain, spoilt brat. With an eye to becoming a duchess, she attempts to compromise Rock into marriage, but these machinations go spectacularly wrong and instead result in his making an offer of marriage to Adeline.
I loved the central protagonists, especially Rockliffe, who is the epitome of the perfect hero. Tall, dark and handsome, he is urbane, poised and unerringly courteous, except when he is administering a suavely, softly-spoken set-down so perfectly delivered that often the recipients have no idea that they have been insulted. He has oodles of integrity and an innate, deep down kindness, which is shown time and time again as the story progresses.
Then there is Adeline, on the face of it a completely unsuitable duchess. She is no beauty, yet she has captured Rock’s attention in a way that no other woman ever has, something he is at a loss to understand. As their marriage settles down, her cool tranquillity, understated elegance, intelligence and that indefinable something I can only call sex appeal, becomes even more captivating. As she emerges as more self-assured, Rock falls more and more under her spell and finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his legendary self-control around her.
Stella Riley’s Georgian world of elegance and sumptuous fashion is magnificent and, with anything she writes, immaculately researched. Her descriptions are so exquisite and in such detail that it’s almost possible to reach out and touch:
Rock...”elegantly saturnine in silver-laced black with the Order of the Garter displayed upon his chest and diamonds winking on his fingers and in his cravat”.
Adeline…“shimmering, shot-silk gown was a triumph”……”a clever overlay of silk petals and the slyly whispering skirt….”.
Diana’s conniving sets the scene for the events that follow, rather like the collapsing of a house of cards where every action has an effect on the next. The marriage between Rockliffe and Adeline is only really the beginning as we listen in awe to Stella Riley’s intensely dramatic and emotional story ratcheting up to a terrifically explosive culmination which is so skilfully achieved that I wondered where it all came from! Emotions are so raw that, by the time we reach the end, I defy anyone not to feel deeply moved and wipe away a tear or two. In fact, I cannot think of another book that I have read with a more emotionally satisfying ending and Ms Riley has shown her deeply insightful understanding of human nature
Alex Wyndham’s acting talents and smooth, deliciously pleasing voice are particularly suited to this beautifully written, character driven story, which adapts itself so perfectly from print to audio. So sensitively does he interpret Ms. Riley’s rollercoaster ride of emotions that it is obvious that the author and her narrator are completely in-tune.
I was especially moved by his portrayal of the swoon-worthy Rockliffe, which is spot-on; as are his interpretations of the group of admirable, honourable and gorgeous friends – Amberley, Jack Ingram and Harry Caversham. Male friendships are something Stella Riley writes particularly well in all her novels and in this one I think she has surpassed even herself. Alex Wyndham not only captures and highlights the affection between these men but we are also never in any doubt as to whom we are listening to during their interactions. I can only guess how difficult this scene must have been for him to perform; not only being able to differentiate plausibly between these male characters, but also maintaining the high and prolonged drama, which he does immaculately. Mr Wyndham’s portrayal of cool-as-cucumber Rock’s gradual unravelling, as we head towards the intensely moving climax of the story, is touching to say the least. By the end, I was left feeling wrung-out but well satisfied and I wait in anticipation for the release of The Player, the next in this series.
MY VERDICT: If you’re looking for intelligent writing, a cleverly contrived plot, plenty of angst and a soul deep, spine-tingling romance, then look no further because I promise you won’t be disappointed.
REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: WARM
Listened to March 2016
The Rockliffe series (click on the book covers for more details):