Ahhhh, the power of punctuation. It can really change the tone of a sentence. Having read previous reviews of Nicola Cornick’s work, as well as that author’s letter to The Romance Reader, I thought I was prepared for the excessive exclamation points. As I began reading, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. But then it happened - somewhere around page 90, the characters seemed to change from reasonable, rational people to shouting alarmists! Every other sentence seemed to be of an urgent nature! This was very frustrating, since this romance was otherwise quite enjoyable. Thankfully, I found that I was able to ignore the punctuation and still appreciate the story.
Sarah Sheridan lives a peaceful life as companion to her cousin, Lady Amelia. As a result of the irresponsible actions of her father and brother (both now deceased), Sarah was left with no financial means of her own. Her beloved home, Blanchland, is now in the hands of her no-good cousin, Sir Ralph. He has turned Blanchland into a disreputable den of sin, hosting all manner of depraved activities there. Sarah has no desire to set foot in Blanchland again until her solicitor brings her a letter containing an unusual posthumous request from her brother, Frank. It seems that Frank has an illegitimate daughter who is still residing in the area of Blanchland. The girl, Olivia, had been told that if she was ever in great need of help, she should contact Sarah. Olivia has written a letter begging Sarah to come to her at Blanchland. In spite of the ill effect this may have on her reputation, Sarah feels compelled to visit Blanchland and offer her help to Olivia.
Just days before Sarah is preparing to leave, she meets Guy Renshaw, a friend of one of Lady Amelia’s most ardent suitors, Greville Baynham. Though they have an inauspicious beginning, the two experience an almost overwhelming instant attraction. They soon realize that they are actually old childhood friends - Guy’s parents are Sarah’s godparents, and the two often played together as children. Their relationship seems to rapidly progress, only to come to a standstill when Guy hears rumors that Sarah is preparing to go to Blanchland. Jumping to the wrong conclusion, he is angry that she should be so careless with her virtue. A horrible fight ensues, and Sarah tearfully prepares to leave the next morning. Come morning, she is shocked to see that Lady Amelia is packed and ready to accompany her. Further surprises are in store when they encounter Guy and Greville on their journey. They are bound for Woodallen, Guy’s home, which is not far from Blanchland. When the weather conditions force the ladies to join them at Woodallen, things get interesting. Guy’s father informs him that he has reasons of his own for getting in touch with the mysterious Olivia.
What follows is part witty comedy and part suspense, with the romantic tension between Sarah and Guy serving as the thread that keeps it all together. Because neither can be entirely truthful with the other about their purpose for seeking out the elusive Olivia, Sarah and Guy have trouble trusting one another. This leads to several misunderstandings. What kept it all from becoming trite or annoying was the depth of feeling these characters displayed for one another. Each had a desire to put effort into the relationship, even when things got really difficult.
The actual “Blanchland Secret,” or mystery was not hard to figure out. The secrets that Guy and Sarah felt compelled to keep from one another played more of a role in the development of the plot than did the whereabouts and problems of Olivia. Blanchland itself provided an interesting setting for two respectable females to experience. Complete with excessive amounts of wine, unsavory gentlemen, and even the use of aphrodisiacs, it was an interesting view of some activities that don’t typically make an appearance in romances of the regency period.
Sarah and Guy are both likeable characters. Although Sarah is a bit on the prim side, even she is not too prudish to enjoy Guy’s pursuit of her. Guy’s determination to win Sarah over is very appealing. However, I did have a minor quibble with his character. In the beginning of the book he is referred to as a notorious rake. Well, I guess he decides to reform himself entirely when he meets Sarah, because he certainly seemed honorable, responsible, and, well, not “rakish” to me. The secondary characters are interesting, as well, with the romance between Amelia and Greville providing a nice diversion.
If you enjoy romances set in the Regency period, by all means give this one a try. Don’t let the exasperating punctuation scare you away. You may find, as I did, that the effort of mentally editing out all of those exclamation points is well worth it.