I had only read this book once and didn’t really remember the storyline all that well. After finishing Axel, where we met both Madeline and Jack, I have to say I wasn’t really looking forward to reading their book. Neither of them made an impression on me as a character I wanted to know more about.
Sir John Fanning (Jack) has taken over as magistrate, something Axel hinted about being a good idea in his book. He spent a lot of time in India (twenty years, putting him in his late thirties) and has returned with an Indian butler who was the brother of his wife, a half-Indian woman who died before Jack returned. His demanding mother is coming for a long visit and Jack wants to organize his household, so the Belmonts suggest Madeline Hennessy join him as his mother’s companion. Madeline reluctantly goes. At the same time, Jack is investigating a series a petty thefts that is plaguing the local area.
So for the most part, I ended up really liking this book and these characters. My chief complaint about Jack is that the most interesting part of his story happens in Axel, and that’s one of my big pet peeves. He tell Madeline that he abused opium, but he doesn’t really get into it. I really don’t appreciate when a main character’s back story is in another book.
But would that have bothered me if I hadn’t read Axel? Probably not. I think there’s enough in Jack to make it work and other readers won’t notice it. Jack’s story was somewhat important to the end of Axel, and as Jack was written much later, I’m almost positive Grace Burrowes did not initially plan to have him be a hero. So maybe that explains it.
Madeline is an incredibly empathetic character as her story is unraveled throughout the book. I forgot how much I liked her. She’s very strong but also ridiculously stubborn and proud. The trope of the housekeeper falling in love with the man of the house is probably one of my least favorite in romance fiction because it literally never happens the opposite way (I can think of maybe two or three off the top of my head) and as both Jack and Maddie point out — women are uniquely vulnerable in this time period and it is so easy to render them powerless.
But I appreciate that Jack did recognize this fact and made it clear that Maddie was to direct everything between. He asked permission every five minutes and always gave Maddie an out. Informed consent is pretty sexy.
I liked this book a lot. There are few things that bothered me just a little that stop this from being a full-fledged five star, but there’s a lot to like in this book and I’m glad I reread it.
So Jack is investigating petty thefts — some coal is stolen from the local merchant but it’s coal that is left strewn around and wouldn’t have been used. The tip jar from the local pub is moved to the church where the vicar isn’t distributing poor funds. The doctor’s bag goes missing. It turns out that Madeline is the culprit, angry at a world that does nothing to help her two poor, elderly aunts who only have her wages to supplement their needs.
I absolutely love this turn in the story and the fact that Maddie is so angry that she’s acting out in these small, almost useless ways. She can’t change a world that doesn’t value women at any age, but particularly in their old age when they can no longer be as useful. Her aunts are so proud and stubborn but completely blind to Maddie’s struggle. At the end of the book, one plans to go to London with Jack’s mother and the other decides to go take over a housekeeping position at the Belmont’s — but they won’t sell their land and expect Maddie to take care of it.
Maddie is at the end of her rope when she finally confides in Jack, expecting that as a magistrate he’ll arrest her or something. But he gets it and admits to his own misdeeds in trying to help Maddie’s aunt (he let a ram loose in Hattie’s yard so she would have lambs to sell). She agrees to marry him.
The quibble I have about this is that Maddie’s aversion to marriage until we find out her secret is that women disappear in marriage — legally, they no longer exist. Men have disappointed her basically her whole life. Once she tells Jack about her mischief and he’s not interested in arresting her, she agrees to marry him. And that other reason is never mentioned again. Now, I can head canon that to she trusts Jack not to be that guy but man I would have loved a conversation about it
Overall I had only read this book once and didn’t really remember the storyline all that well. After finishing Axel, where we met both Madeline and Jack, I have to say I wasn’t really looking ...