How do you reform a supercilious, priggish, dour, stiff necked, humorless, self righteous, delusionalÖthose of you familiar with the Sherbrooke family know exactly who Iím talking about. Thatís right - Tysen Sherbrooke has his own story.
At the very least you get an explanation of the sibling who always seemed like he was a cuckoo in the nest of gregarious, fun loving, outrageous goonie birds that make up the other Sherbrooke siblings and I for one was satisfied with the results.
After disease, accidents and duels leave Tysen heir to an ancient Scottish barony, he travels to see to his inheritance, leaving his children in the care of Douglas and Alex (The Sherbrooke Bride). Tysenís children, Meggie, Max and Leo are a big part of why I enjoyed reading this novel. Ten year old Meggie is Sinjun (The Heiress Bride) re-born and everyone except her father realizes this (he believes she is sweet and biddable!). Tysen tells her she must stay with her aunt and uncle. Meggie does no such thing. Instead, she travels disguised as a tiger. Tysen is livid when, upon arriving at his destination, he discovers that his young daughter has been sleeping in stables for the last five days and nights.
Tysenís marriage to Melinda Beartrice (who utilized the close your eyes and think of England method of intercourse), didnít live up to his idea of what he had in mind for the future. An idealistic young vicar married at eighteen, Tysen found himself with a wife who, when he makes a sexual overture, has hysterics and then eventually submits. (What fun that must have been).
Mary Rose Fordyce is referred to as the Local Bastard. (That particular epithet along with Local Embarrassment is applied liberally throughout the story.) She and her mother live as the poor relations with her aunt, uncle and, of course, beautiful pampered cousin. As the Local Bastard, everyone in the village and surrounding countryside believe itís their god given right to abuse Mary Rose. She has grown up believing that this is the way things are supposed to be: after all, she is the Local Bastard and of course doesnít deserve to be treated any better. This quasi-door mat behavior pretty much alienated me from Mary Rose in the very beginning.
Erickson MacPhail is on a mission to force Mary Rose into marriage with help from Maryís uncle. Mary takes extreme, but necessary measures to escape his attentions.
(She literally jumps into a freezing stream to get away from this idiot.) Erickson simply canít understand why the Local Bastard (are you sick of the Local Bastard title yet?) doesnít jump at the chance to marry him. His behavior and motivations (when they are finally made clear) are the weakest and most distracting portions of the novel. A series of predictable plot contrivances bring about a marriage of convenience, between Mary Rose and Tysen.
At the core this story is the change (or lack thereof) in ingrained behavior patterns. Tysen Sherbrooke especially, his parishioners, Mary Rose, her mother, the villagers at Barthwick all behave in ways brought about by habit and circumstances. You learn, too, that far from being distant, intolerant and unfeeling as his behavior would sometimes indicate, Tysen in fact cares deeply for his parishioners and is tireless in his efforts on their behalf. Contact with Mary Rose brings him joy and appreciation of life that he never allowed himself during his marriage to Melinda Beatrice.
Ultimately itís the inability to accept that change brings Tysen to where he feels he has to choose between loving Mary Rose and being the person he is when heís with her, and being the stern, self-righteous vicar everyone has come to expect. It is interesting that the author chose Tysenís story as a venue to explore how expectations, your own and that of others around you, settle into a set pattern of behavior, and how disturbing it is to see the lengths people will go to keep you in that prescribed behavior pattern because it makes them feel safe. So much so, even readers like myself had come to expect certain behaviors from Tysen and never entertained the thought or really questioned whether or not he could be different.
My sentimental enjoyment of reading this story wonít allow me to completely overlook the somewhat inane plot and criminally stupid villains. However, the transformation of Tysen Sherbrooke, his delightful children and the underlying themes of expectations, and acceptance of change make this a story worth reading.