The Christmas Gift is an entertaining story cluttered with too many characters who seem to be there only to keep this six-book series going. That the hero and heroine appear at times to have the reasoning power of gnats detracts from their appeal, as well.
Jack Princeton is home from the war with a damaged leg that has left him with a pronounced limp and an awkward gait. His greatest loss is the belief that he’ll no longer be able to ride. (The solution to this dilemma will no doubt occur to readers on page one, but will not occur to the main characters until the last few pages of the book.) Jack, awash in bitterness and self-pity, hides out in the country in the small, derelict manor house he’s managed to buy from his spendthrift brother. It is there that his good friends Lord Alex Merwin and Lord Anthony Wendover find him, and unwilling to leave him to face the winter in such straits, virtually kidnap him back to Merwin Hall.
Jack, Alex, and Tony form one-half of The Six, a group of friends whose ties go back to boyhood. Their last summer before university was spent at Merwin Hall, fishing, riding, and generally having fun. Their companion in mischief was Alex’s cousin Patricia, who likewise resides at Merwin Hall. Patricia is delighted at the thought of meeting up with Jack again. Jack, whom she adored and never forgot, even through her arranged marriage and subsequent widowhood.
Patricia immediately decides to pull off the kid gloves in her treatment of Jack. Jack , for his part, finds a ready friendship and perhaps a hint of more in his “red-haired angel” who gently nags and bullies him into taking a hard look at his life. Soon Patricia has Jack on crutches, getting around far better than before. When an invitation comes to join another of The Six, Lord Jason Renwick, at a Christmas house party at his home, Patricia insists that Jack come along. Soon the rest of The Six turn up with their assorted wives, and other relatives crowd the story as well. Readers will be hard-put to keep track of all these people. Jack and Patricia make a bet based on how he managed to get himself upstairs even with his bad leg, (another no-brainer, but it takes Patricia most of the book to figure it out) and he fends off the determined advances of Lady Anne, who helped nurse him at one time and now wishes for more.
This is a busy, busy story. Jack and Patricia’s blossoming romance is all but buried under the weight of too many characters and too many side plots. There’s a secondary romance that felt thrown in, and since it featured two characters about which we know virtually nothing, it felt like filler. The Six, plus two wives, plus Patricia, plus the secondary romance, plus Lady Anne, made for twelve characters all fighting for their time on stage. And they all get a piece of it. Meanwhile, the reader wants more of Jack and Patricia, and they have to wait their turn.
Jack is presented as bitter and self-pitying, which works nicely as Patricia is the foil who will give him an emotional boot in the rear. There isn’t as much growth in his character as readers might like. He’s just about as unsure of himself at the end of the story as he was at the beginning, and the faint traces of “poor me” hang over him still. And the fact that nobody can come up with a solution to his “I can’t ride” dilemma doesn’t speak well for their intelligence. It takes Patricia’s “brilliant idea” to save the day. Didn’t these people know who a saddlemaker was?
Patricia fares better. Her longing to help the object of her youthful infatuation is endearing, and her determination to make him see that his life isn’t as awful as he thinks comes across as sturdy and level-headed. One has to wonder how Jack, who is basically a pessimist, and Patricia, who is an optimist, would fare over the long run. How many times should she have to point out that there are worse things than a bum leg, that he could be, in fact, dead? Although she does manage to skewer him with Regency versions of “get over yourself” at just the right time to make him stop short and think. I really liked her character, although her inability to figure out how someone could get up a flight of stairs with a bad leg didn’t impress.
Jeanne Savery’s Six series seems to be featuring strong heroines who don’t back down from self-absorbed heroes. Her book about Lord Jason Renwick featured a blind hero and a pet tiger. The Christmas Gift is interesting and technically well-written, but having all of the Six appear in the book is overload. With a little less clutter, this book would be a much more enjoyable read.