In the three weeks since she had arrived in New York City, Lady Christina Barclay had taken to taking walks in the reclusive Oliver Hawkes’ gardens, her closest neighbour. Oliver had not noticed her until a little incident made him aware of her presence. Since an illness caused Oliver to lose his hearing, he has been keeping mostly to himself, and working on his inventions. Having fled England in complete disgrace, Christina’s parents demand that she marry a very wealthy man and soon. Christina had not expected anything good to come out of the situation, but old Mr. Van Peet, the man of her parents’ choosing, is Christina’s worst nightmare. Oliver and Christina have since become sort of friends, but then they found themselves married so that Christina is safe from her mother’s machinations.
A NOTORIOUS VOW started so wonderfully that I was already basking in Joanna Shupe’s storytelling following the loveliest meet-cute. It felt a bit over the top, with Christina’s horrible parents, the lecherous unwanted suitor, and Christina’s extremely submissive nature, but still I had high hopes. However, as the story went on, I thought it got somewhat depressing with all the unpleasant drama and Christina who seemed more a shadow than a person. This startling lack of subtlety from Ms. Shupe made the story seem almost medieval or gothic in tone, especially considering the author’s penchant for very strong female characters. I was dismayed at Christina’s lack of backbone; she is one of the meekest heroines I have read in a very, very long time.
A NOTORIOUS VOW seemed too much of a marriage of convenience: I got the impression that the romance occurred merely because the other person was nice, agreeable, available, and in Christina’s case grateful for someone who was kind to her. As for Oliver, his problem was not that is he deaf: he is somewhat oblivious and oddly naïve, and continuously gives Christina mixed signals. Oliver’s butler, Gill, was more attuned to Christina’s feelings than Oliver was. While we are repeatedly told that Oliver saw Christina as strong, I could never see it. I would also have preferred to see Christina’s parents shoved into the background for a while, as the second villain that appears later on was more than enough, and more pertinent to the storyline. I was ever so thankful for Frank Tripp – Oliver’s lawyer and a recurring secondary character – he almost salvaged the story. Everything that had to do with the fate of the hearing-impaired in the late nineteen hundred’s was truly fascinating, as Ms. Shupe, again, scrupulously researched her topic. The writing is flawless and eloquent, but I felt this book lacked the sparkle that has defined Joanna Shupe’s Gilded Age series; it just didn’t work for me.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.