If you liked A Love So Splendid, you will probably like Linda Ladd's
sequel, A Love So Fine. Read no further. Otherwise, you may very well
be better off spending time and money on a different book.
Though the cover art of A Love So Fine would seem to promise a cozy,
tea-and-biscuits sort of book, it actually reads more like romantic
suspense. At times, when the plot was working, I was pleasantly reminded of
the classic Victoria Holt books of yore – a type of novel which richly
deserves a renaissance. However, these pleasant associations only lasted
halfway through A Love So Fine.
A Love So Fine tells the story of Liberty Thornhill, daughter of the
previous book's hero and heroine. The book begins in 1808, with Libby
arriving in Yorkshire from Philadelphia. It seems her dearest friend,
Henrietta, has been murdered on the moors, and Libby has traveled all the
way from America to discover the killer.
Though Libby is the daughter of an English duke, she is also a proud
American, uncomfortable with the pomp and circumstance of her father's
station. Thus, as she is a young widow, she travels under the name of her
deceased husband. She figures she will be better able to conduct her
detective work, if no one knows who she really is.
At Lasserthon Manor, she is charmed to meet Henrietta's husband, who seems
genuinely grief-stricken at his new bride's fate. There she also meets
Julian, Lord Edmonton, a notorious rake for whom she forms an instant
dislike. She knows from Henrietta's letters that she was frightened of him,
and with little more to go on other than his shocking manners, Libby decides
he is her culprit.
Unfortunately, Ladd takes awfully long to set up her story. The beginning
part doesn't develop the hero's character, whose motives must needs remain
in the dark. But that throws a glaring spotlight on Libby's character, which
quickly became tiresome. We are to understand that Libby is something of a
paragon of wit, but instead she comes across as a humorless prig. And some
detective! She immediately decides Julian is her prime suspect, but then
widely broadcasts her antipathy for him.
Character flaws aside, I kept reading, but just as things were getting
somewhat exciting – when the dark and dreadful Julian, Lord Edmonton has
kidnapped Libby for being too nosy, ridden through a dark and stormy night
and imprisoned her in his tower, the plot comes to a screeching halt.
Mystery over. Julian, Lord Edmonton is not guilty of the hideous crimes
Libby attributed to him. She can therefore give into her carnal desires and
engage in a torrid affair with the most notorious rake of the ton.
But wait, there are still one-hundred-and-fifty pages left! After several
chapters of happy rapture, Libby and Julian wed, then travel to London to
meet her parents. It turns out, however, that Julian has a blood feud with
Libby's father, the Duke of Thorpe. Whoa-a Nelly! Has Julian, Lord Edmonton
only married her for revenge? Must Libby choose between Julian and her
Will Libby ever live down the humiliation of Julian showing her nude
portrait to her Papa? Gads, what do you think? Really, after the mystery is
solved, and the plot clumsily switches gears to family melodrama, all
suspense is drained from A Love So Fine. In fact, the climax, in
which all-is-resolved, must borrow an entirely new character from the
forthcoming book in the series. Though this might not bother some readers,
it definitely struck me as a structural faux pas and cop-out.
Linda Ladd has been taken to task in other reviews for her wobbly grasp of
history. Here, in A Love So Fine, she wisely avoids too much mention
of actual history, beyond that of costume and carriages. Some writers refer
to this as "wallpaper;" just enough detail to establish a feeling for the
period. But Ladd's wallpaper relates very little feeling for her chosen
period. I won't give detailed criticism here, but suffice to say that when
Ladd writes of Napoleon, she refers to him as "the Sicilian!"
However, silly plots, sketchy characterization and bad history would be
forgivable by this reviewer if the writing simply had been more interesting.
All too often it is bogged down by overwriting and repetition. Also, A
Love So Fine is at least a hundred pages too long, and would have
benefited by judicious editing; many of the long and wordy passages could
have been trimmed without any harm to the story. And unfortunately, lack of
dramatic tension cannot be alleviated by making the principal male
characters behave in the most infantile manner imaginable. Like quite a few
romance authors, Ladd labors under the curious impression that a hero's
frequent rages make him "passionate," when actually he comes off as a big
Linda Ladd definitely has a certain flair for storytelling; however, her
talent is so undisciplined, her writing so unpolished that I cannot
recommend A Love So Fine.