Pros: Great writing, interesting characters, and some truly dark and twisted plot elements.
Cons: I wanted more by the end. Fortunately, this has sequels.
On another website that I haunt, I was recently challenged to a 'buddy read' -- when several members read the same book at the same time, while commenting to each other of how they think it is going and what will happen next. The choice was a richly detailed and imagined series from the 1970's and 80's by author Marilyn Harris, set around the fictional Eden family, and the dark and sometimes horrifying secrets that various members of the family went through.
I had read the earliest books in the series when they were first released, and decided that this would be a fun challenge to work my way through. After some frenzied digging through my stored paperbacks, and then having to find a used copy of a missing volume, I settled down for a reread.
The time is the 1780's and the place is the northern coastline of Devonshire in England. There the Eden family has been residing for generations, ruling over an estate that runs for thousands of acres and their castle dominating the local countryside. The current master of Eden is Lord Thomas, sixth Earl of Eden Point, and someone who does not take kindly to having someone tell him no.
That someone is a teenage girl from the local village, Marianne Locke, who has the promise of great beauty in her features, and is the indulged darling of her fisherman father. She was fortunate enough to gain a position as a maid in the local castle, and that is where she ran into Lord Eden. Unfortunately, the encounter turned out badly, and now, Marianne is facing the dreadful punishment of being publicly flogged -- something that has never happened before to a woman, and certainly not to someone as young and pretty as Marianne.
Afterwards, Marianne is sent off to London to protect her as much as so that Lord Eden doesn't have to see her, into the rather uncertain welcome from her half-sister Jane. Jane has managed fairly well for herself, becoming the common law wife of a noted journalist, William Pitch. Now she is a society hostess for the literati, hosting regular salons and having the life of a lady, if not quite a respectable one. Jane, having been the shunned, not-quite-as-pretty sibling, is not at all happy to see Marianne, and takes out some sisterly pique by turning her into a maid-of-all-work in the household, hoping to dim Marianne's looks for good, and getting some mental satisfaction by doing so.
But Marianne is no weakling, and not nearly as fragile as her looks may deceive someone into thinking. She decides that she is going to survive and do well for herself, and proceeds to do just that. But there is still the memory of Eden Castle and Lord Eden haunting her, and once her sister Jane learns that not just there was a bit more going on than meets the eye, Jane sets in plan a scheme that will not just gain her revenge, but set in motion a series of events that will haunt the Eden family for generations to come...
Well. I hadn't read a potboiler like this one in a long time. The prose might be a touch purple and florid in spots, but the narrative and plot moves at quite a quick pace. Not to mention, you get hooked on these two main characters, Lord Thomas and Marianne. Both are quite determined, and certainly not perfect. They're both adults in this one, with plenty of flaws to their characters -- Lord Thomas tends to sink into trying to control everything and alcohol, along with poor judgment, and Marianne tends to be more resilient and bending to the circumstance without giving in -- think irresistible force meets unmovable object and you get the idea.
But Ms. Harris isn't so foolish as to let this tormented relationship be the only thing going on. Oh no, she weaves in other stories such as the real life tale of William Beckwith and Fonthills Abbey, the relationship of Pitch and Jane, and the complications thereof, the anxiety that the French Revolution caused in England, and some of the more bizarre and outrageous events in Georgian England. There are also descriptions of dress and daily life that help to flesh out the story and give the reader a sense of being there. Just wait until you meet the Celestial Bed -- I thought it was an author's invention and then I found out that someone actually built the thing. But it is this sort of thing done well that helps to vault this tale of frustrated love into a classic of the genre, and also to prove that it has legs more than forty years after it was published. There are not a lot of books that can claim that these days.
For those who are interested, this is one of those old style, Old Skool bodice rippers that really caught the market in the mid-1970's when the romance boom took off. While many of them were quite dreadful, and not very good, this one stands out in that Harris is a damn fine author, and knew how to keep the tension up, and provide the reader not just with an entertaining story but also characters that were very well-defined and nothing like what historical romance has devolved into today.
It's a grand tale, if not a short one -- this one rolls in at close to 700 pages of story -- with plenty of interesting characters, a dark element to the plot that doesn't rely on any paranormal freakiness, and a final resolution that should surprise you. I happily recommend this one to anyone who is sick and tired of the pap being passed off as historical romance these days, and well worth seeking it out either on line or in a used bookshop; sadly this series has gone out of print, but it is worth finding and reading.
Five stars overall and not to be missed.
The Eden Series by Marilyn Harris:
This Other Eden -- you are here
The Prince of Eden
The Eden Passion
The Women of Eden
Eden and Honor
Many thanks to the Books CL, Dramastef who was able to add this title to the database for me.
This Other Eden
1977; Avon Books, G.P.Putnam and Sons