The Country House Courtship is classified as a regency inspirational romance written, and copy provided, by Linore Burkard. The tale is set in 19th century England on the country estate of Beatrice Forsythe’s sister, Ariana Mornay. Beatrice desperately wants to marry as advantageously as her sister did and is doing all she can to convince Ariana to sponsor her in London for a season. While pursuing this course of action Beatrice is introduced to two men: Tristan Barton, a well-dress and seemingly well off dandy, and Peter O’Brien, an articulate and handsome clergyman seeking a vicarage.
In the beginning the story starts off promising enough with many instances of goodness like the following passage:
His gaze fell upon her. He had very blue and intelligent eyes; eyes that were unlikely to have forgotten her youthful faux pas- Beatrice quickly looked away. Why was she feeling the least bit flummoxed over this meeting? She’d only been a mere child, she reminded herself, when she had rashly promised to marry him. Nevertheless, it was mortifying.
The prose is dead on for the time period, ditto with the hierarchy of relationships, rules of courting, etc – but what it lacks is three dimensional characters. Peter O’Brien, the clergyman and ex-soldier, is the only fully developed character I could readily perceive. We know of much of his past through excellent exposition and dialogue without ever feeling as though it were an info dump and, quite honestly, his spirituality is just part of who he is. The reader is given reasonable explanation as to how he came to being a devout man and never do I doubt the truth of it. Now, here’s where it gets tricky for me.
I don’t seek out inspirational genre works to read. When I shop genre fiction it’s romance or sci-fi but mostly I go for the literary fiction or, at the very least, straight up fiction. Those are my biases. And here goes: The religious tone to the book didn’t fly for me. When I started pondering this I had a good heart to heart with myself wondering if this was because of my knee jerk reaction to so much reliance upon someone other than the characters themselves (except by way of prayer) to resolve things. Then I remembered Jane Eyre.
Jane was a devout woman living in eighteenth century Britain and never did I have an issue when reminded of her faith. It was part of her, to separate the faith from the woman would have been disastrous. Just as it would be should you have separated it from O’Brien- and not just because he was a clergyman. It was natural to him. It was real and, as a consequence, he lived because of it. The rest of the characters didn’t fare so well.
There was one particular scene when Philip Mornay, Ariana’s husband, seems to have an existential crisis and is swearing off God, blaming Him for what seems to be the imminent demise of his wife and I just didn’t believe it. His air of religiousness didn’t strike me as spiritual or meaningful and so the crisis felt forced- it’s resolution come to far too quickly for me to even be properly rooted in the thought this was a true questioning of one’s faith. I understand the self-interrogation and re-evaluation of our personal dogmas, especially how it’s supposed to be such a central piece in inspirational romance, but as with any plot device or theme it needs to be integral. Here it felt contrived.
This isn’t me saying “Oh, noes! It’s religious- run for the hills!” What I am saying is characters need to be well constructed. Period. In order to buy the crisis I first need to be sold he’s of faith- the crisis then, barring anything cataclysmic in the writing (which this author is really quite above), will feel real. Should the clergyman have had a sudden “Why, God?!” moment I daresay I would have been brought to tears but Mornay left me going, “Can we please get on with this?”
I don’t know whether these things are typical of the genre as per style of writing as, like I mentioned before, it’s not something I seek out for my own reading material. Purely as a regency romance I still found it lacking for all the reasons I stated above, however, the author did a remarkable job dropping me into the time period. Detail to traditional garb and politics of the day were both painstakingly wrought and built a tremendous foundation for a historically accurate work. If you’re a reader of inspirational romance I imagine you might like this but as a piece of literature it fell rather flat.
**Update: I was informed by the author this book was part of a series and this, being the third book in that series, might have led me to some unfair conclusions. It is my opinion that character driven stories, even when part of a series, should not rest upon the previous knowledge of the reader for investment. However, it is important to note that this review was done without knowledge of it being part of a series.