The Harem Bride

The Indifferent Earl

Lady Silence by Blair Bancroft
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-21586-9
Lady Silence has one of the most despicable heroes I can ever remember encountering in a book. Add to this a plot that asks the reader to make an incredible suspension of belief – one I just couldn’t manage, no matter how earnestly the author sold it – and this is a book that I couldn’t wait to finish.

The story opens in winter. A young girl is trudging through the snow, looking desperately for a place to find shelter and something to eat. She comes across the estate of Farr Park, and stumbling to the kitchen door, is admitted. The staff doesn’t know what to do with her, and the girl doesn’t speak. Damon Farr, master of the house, is about to leave for the war and he reluctantly gives permission for the butler to find some place for the child among the household staff.

Six years later, Damon has returned to Farr Park. He wants to lead a life of peace and quiet, and is incensed to find a beautiful young lady in his beloved bookroom. When she refuses to speak, Damon is informed that this is Katy Snow, the child who came in from the cold six years ago and is now acting as companion to Damon’s mother. Katy is now eighteen and the entire household clearly loves her. As for Damon,

“His body was dazzled. His mind had taken her in dislike.”

Damon decides Katy is too refined in her manners and too intelligent. She must be scheming and hiding something. Perhaps she’s a runaway from a noble family, which would make him culpable if she were caught hiding in his home. All well and good, but what Demon proceeds to do is insult Katy for nearly two hundred pages. She’s a jumped-up scullery maid, a noble’s bastard, a merchant’s chit, a guttersnipe masquerading as a lady, a foundling. He magnanimously offers to give her a bit of money before throwing her out of the house. His mother refuses to have no part of this and insists Katy stay, which enrages Damon even more and makes him treat Katy even worse.

At the same time, Damon is aware of how pretty Katy is. Katy, who is indeed well-born, has reasons for maintaining her silence. She eventually falls into the role of secretary to Damon, though he continues to alternate between reluctant friendship and his belief that Katy is nothing more than a scheming tart. As soon as glimmers of humanity begin to break through in Damon’s character, he remind himself that she’s up to no good and can’t be trusted, etc. But it’s okay for him to ogle her face and body.

And when Damon’s careless treatment of Katy ends in a near-rape by two of his friends, making her scream for help, an assault he encouraged and instigated, Damon really shows how low he can sink. After all, he was deceived! He’s the injured party! She could speak all along! Somebody shoot this guy.

Damon is an arrogant ass, and that’s being kind. He’s bossy, self-important, and completely self-absorbed. Nobody had better get in the way of what he wants or thinks is right. This may be true to the time, but he’s a man nobody would want to be around – in any time period. Katy is presented as intelligent and clever, and as her background unfolds, readers will sympathize with her problem and her desperate need to stay in the safe haven of Farr Park. But the author asks us to accept that a twelve-year-old child could deliberately force herself to become mute, and given human nature, I just could not accept this. Not a single sound? Ever?

There is a subplot involving a nasty sister-in-law and Katy’s true relatives, and it’s effective enough, though predictable. Because Katy doesn’t talk for most of the book, Damon and Katy’s interaction involves him mostly berating her and she falling to her knees and kissing his hand, or lifting her chin defiantly while her eyes shoot sparks, etc. This did nothing to make me believe in their eventual romance. Katy hero-worships Damon because he gave her shelter from the cold six years ago and then went off to become a war hero. Damon fights his attraction to Katy by treating her with contempt. This is love? Nope.

Successful books can provoke strong emotions in a reader. Too bad for Lady Silence that the emotion was mostly annoyance, tinged with distaste. A sweet heroine can’t nearly make up for the lunkheaded hero. Borderline cruelty just isn’t that attractive. Give this one a wide berth.

--Cathy Sova

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