Set in the late Victorian period (1880-1884), this novel recounts the academic and romantic adventures of Catherine Rayborn, a sheltered young woman revelling in her first taste of independence at Girton College, Cambridge.
Catherine's first year passes relatively quietly, broken only by a brief flirtation with a young man from Lincoln College. After returning from visiting her family in India, where she encounters another young man, she meets Lord Holt, a rake and sworn enemy of her cousin Sarah's husband. Soon she is deeply involved with him, despite warnings from her family and friends. Heartbreak follows and she must look within herself before moving on to find true love and academic success.
Ms. Blackwell's research blends seamless into the narrative, effectively recreating the period. I enjoyed the details of life at a women's college and the bustle of Victorian London. While her secondary characters shone, I found Catherine to be somewhat problematic. She gave her heart too easily and appeared fickle and more than a little too naive, even for a young lady of her time. The author's explanation at the end was not convincing. The leading male characters were a little more successful, especially in the area of motivation, notably Lord Holt. However, I would have liked to have seen more interaction between the hero and heroine.
While the author's writing style did not engage me, her pacing and plotting more than compensated, allowing me to finish the book in only a couple of sittings. The incorporation of the spiritual aspects seemed a little heavy-handed in spots, but as I have no other experience reading inspirational fiction, I do not know if it was excessive.
Overall a pleasant read for fans of Victoriana and light romance.
© Teresa Basinski Eckford 2002
This review first appeared in the February 2002 issue of The Historical Novels Review