Grace Curtis used to be from the higher-ups, but her father, prior to his death, squandered their wealth, and died in debt. Grace took charge of her life, and went to work for the local baker–first, to work off her family’s debt, then for herself. The old Lord Thomson loves her little cream pastries, and is kind to her…and upon his death, leaves her with a little home to live in, and a difficult charge–take his bastard son in!
Captain Duncan is a prisoner of war, held in the notorious prison at Dartmoor, a privateer on the wrong side of an encouter with a English man-o-war. When Grace goes with Lord Thomson’s solicitor to fetch the man on parole, though, he’s dying, and his final wish is for her to take in one of his men, who will pose as him. Grace looks around her, and chooses the sailing master, Rob Inman.
Part of this tale, is, course, as predictable as a sunrise–Rob and Grace fall for each other in stages, revealing some tidbits about each other’s strange pasts, and Rob is, of course, at some point discovered to be an impostor by our villains. But this book was full of surprises for me. My previous forays into the historical-fiction romance genre were much more Georgette-Heyer-esqe, chaste, with much pomp and stilted language and women carrying vinaigarettes around to revive them when they feel faint.
There are none of those things in Marriage of Mercy. True, there is an old dowager lady in town, and at first, she’s a somewhat comedic figure, but she becomes positively useful and likeable in the late going. Rob is a boy from the streets, all grown up, so has no need or desire to put on airs of any sort…and his interaction with Grace is decidedly not chaste! The plot takes some abrupt left turns, too; there are several moments where one wonders who the villains really are; these things are, of course, revealed as we get toward the ending, leaving no loose ends.
Our protagonists are quite believable, to me, real people, who have real problems and work them out together; at no point do I perceive either of them as being high-strung or angry for the sake of a plot device, something I’ve seen before, in other stories. Their intimate times are warm and loving and truly beautiful, without being crass; Grace is, unsurprisingly, a virgin at the beginning of the book, and the slow phases by which she ends up in Rob’s arms seem like a wonderful, natural progression.
There were a couple of side-bits of this story that I’d like to remark about; Rob was born in England, but spent most of his life on the sea, and living in Nantucket, where he was married to a now-deceased wife, and has a home. Grace is discovering, the hard way, that the stratification of society that is prevalent in England is not, after all, so good a thing, some times. It’s a fine system if you’re at the top of the pyramid, but if not…well, as Rob asks her, “What has England done for you?”
This commentary on the value of a more-democratic, more-egalitarian society is touched on repeatedly throughout the book, even by the dowager Lady Tutt. Before long, the people of the village don’t see Rob as an enemy–they quickly learn to like “Captain Duncan”, especially when he shows the local baker how to make doughnuts! And after all, if a boy from the streets, the son of theives, can become a sailing master and own his own home, what’s so wrong with that? Grace struggles with this for a while, but starts to realize that she could, if she wanted to, move to America with him at the end of the war, and open her own bakery, and be a success. I like the way the “American dream” was touched on in this story. It didn’t exactly denigrate the English system, but yet didn’t quite portray it in the best light.
Finally (and a minor spoiler), toward the end of the book, Rob is re-incarcerated for a time at Dartmoor, and when he is reunited with Grace, he has lost a leg. He sends someone in to the bakery to tell her, rather than coming in himself, because he is worried that she will reject him. As I have said before in a previous review, this sort of thing resonates with me, as I am also an amputee. Grace, of course, handles this wonderfully. She is sad about what he has endured, but loves the man he is.
I really enjoyed Marriage of Mercy. Perhaps it’s time for me to rethink my disdain for historical fiction; it may be that more-modern writings will be more to my tastes. Thanks, Anne, for the suggestion for this Tag Team Tuesday. This was an enjoyable read!