For those of you who enjoy straight-out romance, or the Nora Roberts brand of a little suspense thrown in with a lot of romance, Mary Stewart is not the author for you. Stewart requires indepth reading, her plots are intricate, her characterizations strong. She is incomparable; her words are literature. Although descriptions abound, there is not any graphically detailed sex, so if this is not your cup of tea, read no further and look for another selection.
This particular book does not fit into any of the usual Stewart categories----the great chase as in 'Madam Will You Talk?', the closed room police procedural as in 'Wildfire at Midnight' or the Evil Relative with Nefarious Intentions as in 'Nine Coaches Waiting'----rather, it is a story of impersonation. . . and one of Stewart's best offerings in terms of just about everything: plot, tone, description, dialogue, characterization etc.
Mary Grey accepts a 'job',posing as Annabel Winslow, the long-lost cousin and heiress to Whitescar, a lucrative North England working farm---her employer, her 'cousin' Con has much to gain once Annabel's cantankerous old grandfather passes on. At first, after careful schooling by Con and his half-sister, Lisa, Mary takes to her new position smoothly, easily edging her way into life on the farm with a barrage of lies that seem to be second nature to her. No one doubts her identity until she discovers the presence of an unknown lover that may blow her cover. The real reason Annabel Winslow left Whitescar eight years earlier hits the reader with tour de force revelation which Stewart masterfully manipulates.
I won't spoil the story any further. It must be read slowly and savored like a good $100+ bottle of wine. The language is glorious,meant to be read aloud. The words paint wonderfully lush and powerful images of life in the north country. The characters likewise are finely drawn, flesh and blood human beings whose emotions thunder off the pages with the same potent electric charge of lightning that finally splits the old ivy tree in two towards the end of the story. Even the secondary characters are not to be missed. Mrs. Bates with her nosy northerner's distrust of anything 'London', Julie, the pettish young adult who is Annabel's mirror image, and Donald Seton, the stuffy, but warm-hearted Scot archaeologist with a soft spot for the greedy cat Tommy and his litter of kittens. Even the colt, Rowan, has a personality all his own; Stewart knows and loves her animals and this like all her other novels is a tribute to the creatures and places she loves best.
I have read and listened to this book over and over again. Each time, even though I know the ending, I find new techniques to ponder and wonder over. Stewart is simply fantastic; shame on anyone who prefers lesser works to her masterpieces.