Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

Book Blurb

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.


From the outset, it is clear that this Gothic novel is well written with some touching emotions and deep internal conflict of the heroine, Julia. The idiosyncrasies of the early Victorian era and society’s restrictions are well detailed, and the needle sharp dialogue of the two older ladies in the cast is masterful as well as cringe-making in its acerbity.

The novel quickly takes a sinister turn, beginning with her unspeakable hostess, Mrs Windham, who showers Julia with insults while professing to care for her. Then she tries to ‘sell’ Julia to a matchmaker, finally striking a deal with the elderly Lady Foxmore, a woman who would terrify Lady Catherine de Burgh, to find Julia a husband.

When Edward Auburn, Julia’s secret betrothed makes an appearance, she is horrified to discover he has been ordained into the church which victimised her cruelly for her father’s atheist beliefs.

Edward ends their betrothal, and Julia is invited to a magnificent mansion called Eastbourne, Lady Foxmore comes along, but reluctantly and it soon evolves that she and its mysterious owner, Mr Chance Macy have some history. The house party is comprised of enigmatic, hostile characters, some of whom bear some sort of grudge against Julia. They utter damning statements before rushing from the room or lapse into brooding silence, until I am convinced they are there with the sole purpose of driving poor Julia mad.

Julia is still suffering the effects of her mother’s suicide, and events carry her along on a wave of deception, misinformation and downright lies. The patronising Macy treats Julia like a charming pet, professes love within days, then compromises her in front of the other house guests by staying in her room all night before disappearing on one of several unexplained errands - only to return and begin his weird courtship all over again. The way he keeps calling her ‘darling’ is particularly creepy.

Julia doesn’t handle the situation well, and spends most of her time blushing, shaking her head or burying her face in whichever male chest is closest [Macy’s or Edwards-she conflicted] Julia’s best friend, Elizabeth Windham, who is [secretly of course] betrothed to Edward’s brother, Henry, joins this atmosphere of hostility and the general refusal to communicate deteriorates into everyone glaring at each other at mealtimes.

Ms Dotta certainly keeps the reader guessing as Julia is pulled about from pillar to post by those whose motives are unclear. Is Macy a dashing suitor and protector, or is he the villain of the piece with his own agenda? Is Julia’s guardian really bent on ending her life when they have never met, or is he trying to rescue her from the villainous Macy? Will Edward discard his dog collar to win Julia, or does he expect her to preside over his parish teas and pretend a faith in a higher power for his sake?

This is an intriguing read, despite my frustration with the simpering Julia. By the end I accepted her character was dictated by the fact sheltered Victorian girls weren’t naturally assertive, nor expected to be. There are two more stories in this series to come, so maybe the loose ends left by this novel will be made clear in the next. 

I will have to read them as I'm worried about what happened to Nancy!

TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

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