The Choice by Edith Layton
Damon Ryder first meets Gilly Giles in a moonlit garden at a London party.
He's astonished (and impressed) when Gilly dispatches an overly-amorous
suitor with a well-placed knee to the groin, but his protective instincts
are aroused when the suitor attempts to make a scene in the ballroom later
on. Damon impulsively announces to the crowd that he and Gilly carried on
a correspondence while he was in America, and now they are engaged. That
should prevent any repercussions, and later they can call it off.
Gilly, ward of the Earl of Sinclair (see The Cad) comes from the meanest
streets of London. She's acquired polish, but lurking beneath the surface
is a survivalist who can use a knife and a fist and swear like a drunken
sailor if needed. Gilly is astonished that the handsome Mr. Ryder would
involve himself with a nobody like her, and she guards against the day when
he finds out the truth. When Gilly and Damon begin to feel their
attraction may be stronger than they had assumed, she decides to tell him
To Gilly's surprise, Damon isn't at all put off by her revelations. He
sees Gilly as a competent, bright, independent beauty, a perfect match for
his own adventurous spirit. This woman was meant for him. Now all he has
to do is convince her, which will be an uphill battle. For Gilly, though
she relishes the passion she finds with Damon, has fancied herself in love
with the Earl of Drummond for years. Drum is her guardian's best friend
and the man who helped her leave the London streets behind. In addition, handsome Lord Wycoff, a notorious rake trapped in a loveless marriage, is awakened to Gilly's charms. Gilly's journey will bring her to self-understanding and the right choice, but
she'll have some painful lessons to learn first.
Cathy and Dean react:
CS: Edith Layton usually delivers characters that could all but walk off the
page, and The Choice is no exception. Damon is honed to perfection and is
perhaps the strongest character in the book. He's portrayed as a man who
finds himself unexpectedly handed the woman of his dreams, not even
realizing he was dreaming of her. His delight of discovery, the
protectiveness he feels when Gilly makes her startling revelations, and his
pain when he realizes that loving her may not be enough to convince her to
stay are palpable and moving. This is a hero to root for all the way.
DJ: I agree that Damon is a wonderful romantic hero, one for whom the reader is rooting. But at the same time, I would like to have seen him a little more human here and there. His forebearance is sorely tested only towards the end of the book; his self-control hardly ever lapses. I'd like to have seen him ready to fight for Gilly sooner; I think it would have helped the plot tremendously if Drum had appeared in person much sooner.
CS: That's true -- at times he almost treats Gillly with kid gloves, not wanting to frighten her away. Gilly is harder to know, and perhaps intentionally so given her murky, painful past. Much of the story is told in Damon's point of view, with
Gilly and Drum getting the rest, so her time "onstage" didn't allow me to
get inside her thoughts as much as I'd have liked. Her character is
consistent, though, and refreshingly circumspect. Gilly has no illusions
about herself. Her honesty will ultimately guide her to the right
decision, and it's an interesting trip.
DJ: I don't have much to add to this; I think you've described my own feelings about this character very well. What did you think of Drum?
CS: Drum may be headed for his own book, and the glimpses we get into his
character here make it a tossup as to whether I'd want to read more about
him. He's closed himself off to everyone except a few friends and Gilly,
and it's only when he finds that Damon is truly interested in her that his
own interest awakens. While a Pygmalion story can work, here it seemed
more dog-in-the-mangerish than anything else. In the end, his heroic
instincts do come to light.
DJ: I found his character more of a problem. For me, I think it was because he was
introduced in person so late in the plot. If he had been around a bit earlier, there
might have been more for him to do. As it was, he seemed more of an artificial plot
device than a character. I never could really buy his sudden interest in Gilly as a
love object, or understand completely why Gilly was so enamored of him. (I've not read The Cad, so I may be missing something there.)
CS: I did wonder about Damon's portrayal as a man who is considered a fabulous
"catch," given that he has wealth but no title. His family is vaguely
referred to as "important" but I had no real sense of why or how, and so
his portrayal as a target for all the marriageable misses didn't quite…fit.
However, given Gilly's background, he's perhaps the only type of man who
could star in this story -- one to whom titles mean nothing.
DJ: Layton seems to have been walking a fine line here; the only reason really given, that I recall, for the Ryder family's importance is their ability to trace their lineage back to one of William the Conqueror's cohorts. But I can't remember any titles being flung around.
CS: And there's a bit about a fly skewered with a throwing knife that I didn't
quite buy. But, hey, heroes are supposed to be larger than life.
DJ: A little bit of "Davy Crockett meets Beau Brummell," which I found very amusing, if not totally believable.
CS: Edith Layton has delivered an elegant tale with an unusual premise and a
sensational hero. Not only is the story engrossing, but this author has
polished her craft and the writing really shines. Ms. Layton knows how to
make it sing. My vote: The Choice is choice romance, indeed.
DJ: Overall I'd agree that this is choice romance; it's a cut above the ordinary, certainly, but I couldn't quite place it in the top drawer, despite the fact that Damon and Gilly are such finely drawn characters. The reason: the plot. Maybe this stems from the fact that I read more mysteries than I read romances, and I'm having false expectations of the genre. But in this book, we spend so much time in Damon's point of view, with some excursions to Gilly's, that we don't get enough sense of the other characters to make some of the plot points work properly. For example, Gilly's apprehensions about her acceptance by Damon's family. We more often than not are "told" how they react to her, rather than being "shown." There aren't enough really meaty scenes between Gilly and members of the Ryder clan to make this part of the plot believable for me. The spiteful poor relation serves part of this purpose, and she is helpful in some ways, but the two major scenes between Gilly and Mama Ryder just didn't work for me. The one exception to this is Lord Wycoff, who comes through very clearly. His actions in the story are very much character-driven, and Layton handles them beautifully.
In the end, I think there was basically just one level of tension in operation in the
story, at least one which I found totally convincing. For a truly multilayered story,
tension needs to operate on more than one level. I will have no hesitation in
recommending The Choice as an excellent read, but I do wonder what might have been if the minor characters had been more complex and better integrated into the story.
CS: Good point! I actually think Layton could build quite a story around Lord Wycoff;
the ending of The Choice makes me wonder if that's what she has in mind. He was an interesting character, and I got the feeling there were more layers there than we were allowed to see this time around.
Readers, if you've read The Choice, let us know what you think. And our thanks to Dean for participating in the Men Reading Romance column.
August 8, 1999