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The Marigold Chain.jpg

Genre: Historical Romance (17th Century – Restoration England, 1666)

Cover Blurb:

England, 1666; the year when people who take prophecy seriously believe that the world is going to end.

For  Chloë Herveaux, marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, waking up with an epic hangover, the discovery that he has acquired a bride is an unwelcome shock. But while the marriage remains in name only, other forces are gathering.

England is once again at war with the Dutch and Prince Rupert suspects that sabotage is at work within the fleet. Instructed to find and stop the traitor, Alex enters a dark labyrinth of intrigue – where no life is safe, and nothing is what it seems.

Chloë, meanwhile, navigates the shark-infested waters of Charles the Second’s Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the intriguing facets of Mr Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed to her, Chloe’s mock-marriage becomes fraught with difficulties – the greatest of which is Mr Deveril himself.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Whenever I pick up a book by Stella Riley, I anticipate reading an engrossing, well-written story with diverse, in-depth characters, witty dialogue and a meticulously researched historical setting. The Marigold Chain definitely fulfilled all my expectations.

I admire Ms. Riley for creating such a flawed and fascinating hero. Alex is unpredictable, provoking, intolerant and not even his friends are immune to his acerbic tongue.

“You can chew on my failings till you choke – but not here. I don’t want sympathy, brotherly love or nauseating bloody morality…”

It would have been so easy to dislike Alex but Ms. Riley skilfully balances his negative qualities with positive ones. He is attractive, intelligent, charming, witty, brave, loyal, and a superb swordsman and horseman, with an appealing habit of quoting classical poetry. It’s impossible not to fall under his spell just as Chloë does.

I also appreciated how much past events have contributed to his current state of mind. Soldiering has been his life since the age of fifteen when, together with his father, he fought for the Royalist cause at the Battle of Worcester. Following the Royalist defeat, Alex was forced into exile and, during those years, he made his living as a mercenary. Following the restoration of Charles II, a much-hardened Alex returned to England, only to discover that his devious cousin, Simon, had deprived him of his birth-right. Even the King lacked the power to restore what was rightfully his, leaving Alex a very angry and bitter man. No longer able to ply the only trade he knows, boredom soon set in and Alex has become increasingly unpredictable, indulging in ludicrous and often dangerous wagers and bouts of heavy drinking. Matters have only deteriorated further when he discovers that the woman he believes himself to be in love with is nothing more than a conniving, ‘selfish little bitch’.

Half-French, practical, intelligent and kind, Chloë is such a delightful heroine. Since her father died, she has been living with her step-brother James, a loathsome man, who treats Chloë as an unpaid housekeeper and spends all the money on drinking, gambling and whores. Recently, she has had to bolt her bedroom door at night for fear of his lecherous advances. When James stakes Chloë in the card game, she sees it as a chance to get away from her odious stepbrother and the drudgery of her life.

She may be naive in many ways but Chloë is no wilting lily and I admire the way she is more than a match for Alex and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

 “It’s a pity everybody tiptoes round your feelings. It gives you the idea you can do what you like.”

Her tendency to interfere in Alex’s life is always done with the best of intentions such as when she cleverly schemes to secure a reconciliation between Alex and his friend Giles. Despite being sensible and practical, Chloë has no defence against Alex’s charm and magnetism. She is hopelessly in love with him but has no illusions that he could ever offer her anything but friendship. I think it is a sign of the depth of her love for him that she could never trap Alex in a marriage he did not want.

…though she knew he did not love her and almost certainly never would, she also knew that her heart was given irrevocably–and that he must never know it.

I enjoyed seeing Chloë not only capture the affection of Alex’s friends but also his old retainer Matthew.

Alex’s epiphany creeps up on him very slowly. At first, he treats Chloë in the same manner as everyone else around him, but then there are moments when he does something quite unexpected like laughing himself silly over the disaster in the kitchen; giving her the marigold chain [Marigold is his pet name for her) which he has obviously chosen with great care; knowing exactly what to say to comfort a distraught Chloë when tragedy affects their lives. When he finally realises that he is head over heals in love with her, he reflects on all the mistakes he has made over the past eight months – all of them waiting now, like snares to trap him – and fears that it might be too late. I admit that it was satisfying to see Alex completely out of his depth when it comes to telling Chloë that he loves her.

The plot to discover and identify the traitor within the Naval service allows Alex to break out of the state of boredom he has fallen into. Now we see a man who is focused, cunning and brave, whose expert swordsmanship is put to good use.

The story is laced with Ms. Riley’s trademark humour such as the marvellous description of the food laid out for the Grand Banquet…

Sirloins of beef lay flanked by cheeses and jellies; the hams jostled the syllabubs and the lobsters lay cheek by jowl with strawberries and quails; roasted geese looked down on oysters and custards and a suckling pig, its mouth full of apple, glared balefully at a panoplied peacock

and the hilarious Masque, complete with a jocular commentary from Alex.

All the secondary characters are so well drawn – Alex’s faithful manservant, Matthew Lewis; his long-suffering but loyal friends, Giles Beckwith and Daniel Fawsley; his scheming cousin, Simon Deveril; the malicious, self-absorbed Lady Sarah Courtney. Ms. Riley also effortlessly weaves a number of real personages into the story, including a perceptive Charles II and his wife Catherine of Braganza, Prince Rupert and Samuel Pepys, who all add depth to the rich tapestry of the story.

I always find myself totally immersed in Ms. Riley’s books whatever the historical setting, whether it is the Georgian era, the English Civil War or the Restoration period, as in The Marigold Chain. She brings everything vividly to life with her evocative writing and immaculate research.

 MY VERDICT: Another superb book from Ms. Riley which I have no hesitation in recommending.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

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The Marigold Chain Audio Book

Genre: Historical Romance (17th Century – Restoration England, 1666)

Cover Blurb:

England, 1666; the year when people who take prophecy seriously believe that the world is going to end.

For Chloe Herveaux, marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, waking up with an epic hangover, the discovery that he has acquired a bride is an unwelcome shock. But while the marriage remains in name only, other forces are gathering.

England is once again at war with the Dutch and Prince Rupert suspects that sabotage is at work within the fleet. Instructed to find and stop the traitor, Alex enters a dark labyrinth of intrigue – where no life is safe, and nothing is what it seems.

Chloe, meanwhile, navigates the shark-infested waters of Charles the Second’s Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the intriguing facets of Mr Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed to her, Chloe’s mock-marriage becomes fraught with difficulties – the greatest of which is Mr Deveril himself.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The Marigold Chain was my very first book by Stella Riley and I loved it from beginning to end, consequently it has a special place in my heart and on my keeper shelf. After my first reading, more than two years ago, its characters, both main and secondary, remain with me as clearly as if I’d just put the book down. I couldn’t have been happier when I heard a whisper that the supremely talented Alex Wyndham was to record it and waited with much anticipation for its release. And, oh my…but it was worth the wait.

Set during Restoration England, The Marigold Chain follows eight months in the lives of Alex Deveril and Chloe Hervaux – a man and woman thrown together by unusual and unorthodox circumstances. The real events unfolding around their seemingly ordinary lives add to the thrill of this wonderfully rich story, in which our couple become well and truly embroiled. The fabulous cast of historical figures are so cleverly interwoven with fictitious characters that it is difficult to know for sure who lived and who is a figment of the author’s fertile imagination.

One night, Alex Deveril is out on a drinking spree to end all drinking sprees, having been rejected by the woman he believes he loves. Alex is outrageous and unconventional at the best of times but, this time, he outdoes even himself. Whilst involved in a card party at the home of Chloe’s step-brother, she is offered as the stake in a game gone too far, when her odious brother runs out of funds to pay his debts. Never one to turn down a challenge, Alex accepts and wins. To be fair to Chloe, she does try to refuse, but her step-brother (no blood relative) is vile and has become a nuisance with his unwanted, and some might say, incestuous advances towards her, and she is desperate to leave his house and her life of drudgery behind. Still drunk beyond reason, Alex convinces Chloe to leave with him in the dead of night and insists on rousing a clergyman, even going as far as shimmying up a drainpipe in order to persuade him into marrying them. Drunk or not, Alex knows what is right and the wedding takes place. While Alex sleeps off his excesses, Chloe has a long night of contemplation and faces up to the realisation that she may have taken unfair advantage of Alex in her haste to escape her brother. She should have refused his drunken proposal, no matter how gorgeous he is or how enticing the prospect of being his wife might be. After discussing the matter, they decide that eventually they will pursue an annulment, although neither is in a hurry to be free, each for reasons of their own.  So, for the time being, their marriage-in-name-only, will remain just that.

The year is 1666 and the country is still struggling and in debt, after years of civil war followed by an horrendous loss of life as a result of the plague. Now, to add to her problems, England is at war with the Dutch and France is about to join in. Alex has recently returned from soldering after fifteen years of fighting, both as man and boy, to discover that his birth right has been stolen during his absence. Always fiercely loyal to the crown, like his father before him, Alex cannot dispel the unfairness of it and, as a result, has become an embittered and acerbic young man. And yet, he retains the respect and affection of his peers who fought with him and know his loyalty and friendship are worth having. Alex’s inner group of friends who remember him as he used to b – charming, witty and reckless – are generally willing to overlook his biting tongue and tolerate his much-changed demeanour.  For his part, Alex does his best to push his friends away, but they refuse to abandon him, although there are moments when they wonder why. Then his occasional flashes of breath-taking charm, ever ready wit and obvious intelligence, remind them that the Alex they knew still exists. Chloe is no different to his friends; she was besotted with Alex from the moment she met him, and still is. However, an inner awareness tells her that her feelings must be kept hidden, not only to avoid his derision, but also because a strong sense of justice tells her that Alex must never feel trapped into staying married to her.

Chloe’s character and person are beautifully drawn – a compelling young woman with an understated beauty and gentle innocence. However, she is no pushover and knows how to run and care for a household on a limited budget, after suffering under her step-brother’s roof as an unpaid housekeeper. Alex may not realise it, but he has met his match… and his love. Chloe tolerates his moods, but only up to a point, and then quietly but firmly puts him in his place. She often risks his displeasure and bad humour by intervening in his plans – for his own good – such as when she realises he is about to embark on something he will later regret. Often, her intervention is done with the collusion of his friends, all of whom fall under her guileless spell and also realise, fairly soon after the marriage, that Chloe could be Alex’s salvation.

Their relationship develops through various phases; at first as strangers, then continuing onto friendship and confidantes and finally to the inevitable and, in true Stella Riley fashion, she grows their love story slowly and sweetly. At first, Alex accepts his wife’s company as just another person around him to be tolerated and often ignored, until without him realising it, she becomes necessary to him. He nicknames her Marigold from the beginning and, at one point, on her first visit to court with him, he presents her with a pretty necklace, the Marigold Chain. Alex has obviously chosen it with care, although he is very blasé about the giving of it to her. Its colour (matching her hair) and simplistic, understated beauty is Chloe to a tee and she cherishes it. I love the classy and unusual titles this author chooses for her books, but of all of them, The Marigold Chain is my favourite, given the special significance of this particular title.

While Alex is well aware of his flaws but unrepentant, he is also a highly intelligent man of unequivocal integrity. His previously proven military prowess has earned him the trust and respect of Prince Rupert, cousin to King Charles II and Commander of the Naval Fleet. Together with his friend Giles Beckwith, Alex is contracted into covertly searching for a possible traitor in their midst. There is no actual proof that a traitor exists, just a few unexplained ‘accidents’ which have cost the English Navy, ships and lives. The ensuing events are fast moving, exciting, and exactly what an adrenalin junkie like Alex Deveril needs to shake him out of the doldrums.

Stella Riley covers so much in this story; a snapshot of warfare, death and injury on board his Majesty’s ships during wartime; the Great Fire of London, where we see the cramped wooden buildings in their narrow lanes, the fire eating its way relentlessly through London and the despair of her inhabitants as they fight fruitlessly to save their homes, and then the final devastating toppling of Paul’s cathedral. The licentious, gluttonous, fashion obsessed court of the womanising, but shrewd and enigmatic, Charles II, and the despair of his Queen as he flaunts his mistresses are all brought vibrantly to life by this talented author, whose love and obvious knowledge of her subject is indisputable. We are not overwhelmed with extraneous historical detail but rather Ms. Riley sets out the facts clearly and precisely and in a way that makes the reader/listener desirous to learn more and filling in the gaps with intelligent probabilities and a delicious romance to boot.

Alex Wyndham has quite a job on his hands as he handles, with great aplomb, the sarcastic, cynical, Alex Deveril. It would be all to easy to dislike this young man, but I loved his complex character.  Alex Wyndham captures him to perfection, showing along the way, with his intuitive interpretation of the author’s writing, that here is a decent and honourable young man who has had a raw deal and only needs that certain someone in his life to redeem him. Alex’s reckless disregard for his own safety sees him hurtling towards his own ruin and his friends, understanding the reasons, do their best to mitigate his behaviour. Alex Wyndham, consummate actor that he is, has to deal with all of this – an Alex Deveril who does not suffer fools gladly and thinks he neither wants or needs anyone, but who then undergoes a lightbulb moment of such epic proportions that he is left reeling from the shock and how to deal with it. A lesser actor could not have pulled off this transformation so effectively and believably.

Mr. Wyndham’s tone of voice undergoes a subtle change, but it is so well done that we are aware that we are still listening to Alex Deveril, an angry young man for the most part of the story, but one who suddenly finds himself again, after a long time in the wilderness. You immediately know that Alex Deveril’s feelings have undergone a colossal change simply by Alex Wyndham’s alteration in inflection while still retaining the recognisable ‘voice’ he has adopted for Alex Deveril. I was so taken by Alex Wyndham’s performance that I listened to this same part a few times just to enjoy and marvel at his expertise. There are a couple of places where he has to deal with Stella Riley at her emotional best – real tear jerkers – I promise – but no spoilers. All I’ll say is that listeners will not be disappointed by Stella Riley’s words or Alex Wyndham’s rendering of them – but have your tissues ready. Oh…and he sings in a couple of places AND quotes poetry – I could go on and on – just sit back and enjoy.

Before reading The Marigold Chain, I’m ashamed to say I knew little about The English Civil War and the Restoration. It was a war which split families apart and ravaged our country for the best part of ten years, and saw an anointed King beheaded. How could I not have been interested? However, this has all changed now because I have become totally hooked by Stella Riley’s world of Cavaliers and Roundheads. I strongly recommend the uninitiated to listen to The Marigold Chain and A Splendid Defiance and to read her English Civil War series, beginning with The Black Madonna which, by the way, is stupendous.

MY VERDICT: I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys superbly researched history, compelling and intriguing characters (fictitious and historical), a fast paced and exciting mystery, coupled with a bone melting romance, not loving THE MARIGOLD CHAIN. And let’s not forget the exceptionally talented, Alex Wyndham, who adds that extra spark of brilliance. Highly recommended.

 

 REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 NARRATION REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

 

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