|The Windermere sisters are all named after flowers with the eldest being Rose. The Crystal Rose is her story. It begins in India when she is 8 and her best friend and neighbor is Hugo Drayton, age 13. Hugo’s family is murdered and his house burned, with Hugo believed to be dead. Rose is heartbroken and when no villains can be arrested, her father moves his family back to England. The story picks up 15 years later in 1850.
Rose is now 23 and still unmarried. Her father, having retired his military status to return to England, is struggling as an investor and merchant. While they are not poor, they are not in the status of the haute ton. Rose is being courted by a professor from a university, but she really doesn’t love him. She still thinks of Hugo and has kept half of a Gupta coin given to her by Hugo in India.
Hugo is still alive. His tutor got him out of the house and protected him from discovery by rushing him off to his mother’s family in the Punjabi. Son of an Indian mother and a titled father, Hugo had always assumed he would inherit the title. Instead, his cousin, James Wormwood came into the title because of Hugo’s “death.” Hugo and his man, Mayur Singh always thought that James had ordered someone to kill his parents and have been on a mission to prove it. He has now returned to England under the name Raj Khanna. He suspects James not just of murder but of a plot to kill Queen Victoria. He inadvertently embroils Rose in the mystery when he is being chased and gives her a letter of evidence to hold for him.
Rose and Hugo are reunited and yet they must keep up the pretense of having just met due to the danger. As they spend time together they fall in love again and work together to try to prove James’ perfidy so that Hugo can rightly claim his title.
It has been a few years since I have read a Brandewyne novel. Her style has not changed. If you are a fan, you will probably enjoy this tale. I however, struggled with the depth of her descriptions of every room, every carriage and every scene. This is distracting and interferes with the pacing of the mystery and the storylines. For instance, the girls are going to their first major ball. They are excited and have gotten in the carriage. The next four paragraphs regale us with…the history of Grosvenor Square and how Mayfair got its name. Then we are treated to the fact that it is autumn and “the deciduous trees that dotted the park had turned red and gold; some of which whorled like strange brown fairies across the damp ground, whispering and rustling with each sough of the wind across the square.” What else do trees and leaves do in autumn? This is followed by an equally detailed look at the house down to the marble on the floor and the fact that the butler was courteous to them.
This over-description carried on throughout the entire 464 pages. It would be irritating enough in itself, but just as annoying are the irrelevant sets of quotes that precede every chapter. They are very distracting and lessened my enjoyment of the story.
Hugo is a good hero and Rose is a decent heroine. I did not feel the author gave proper depth to their relationship, however. It was almost an understood that because they had felt so connected as children, they still felt connected as adults, even though it had been 15 years and they had extremely dissimilar experiences in that time of separation. Rose would comment at times that she didn’t really know the older Hugo, but she fell back in love with him without really getting to know him again. There was only one scene that indicated they were physically attracted and little to no sense of romance. If the author had spent more time on developing the characters and less on the setting, the book would have been the better for it.
I found myself struggling to pick the book up again after putting it down, despite the rather engaging plotline of treason and the interesting inclusion of some of the merchant class of London, who have befriended Rose and assisted in protecting her. The fact that Rose and her family straddle the two class lines add an intriguing twist to a Victorian England setting. Alas, for me, this wasn’t enough to overcome the writing style.
For Brandewyne fans, this may prove a treat but for this reviewer, The Crystal Rose was not.