Book: Keeping the Castle
Author: Patrice Kindl
Source: Local Library
Althea Crawley is a very beautiful girl. She's also very practical, and knows that her beauty is the only thing that's likely to save her family and her ancestral home from ruination. She has to marry for money.
Unfortunately, all the best catches seem to be slipping through her fingers. So when the wealthy Lord Boring (no, really) comes back to the neighborhood, Althea sets her mind and all her considerable charms to catching him, and she seems to be succeeding. If only his blunt, sarcastic cousin, Mr. Fredericks, didn't insist on hanging around, quarreling with Althea at every turn.
One of my first book reviews on this blog, lo these many years past, was this author's Owl in Love. The thing I remember most was how the humor and the warmth came organically from the characters, and it's the same in Keeping the Castle.
Althea could very easily have been a really difficult character to like, mercenary and manipulative. After all, it's her stated intention, right from the start, to marry the biggest fortune she can find. That's balanced out by a clear portrayal of how desperate her situation is. Living in a castle that needs a new repair every time she turns around, remaking ballgowns every time there's a party, and pinching pennies until they scream, Althea is very aware that her family is just hanging on by their fingernails. (And the obnoxious stepsisters, who refuse to share even a penny of their own money with the household, don't make life any easier.) Her quest therefore becomes entirely reasonable and practical.
My favorite character, for obvious reasons, is Mr. Fredericks, who
really is astonishingly bad at social intercourse, but proves a
wonderful foil for our main character. The world of a small country neighborhood is built on polite fictions, and it's those polite fictions that Althea is navigating and manipulating in order to get what she wants. Mr. Fredericks has no capacity or patience for polite fictions, but he proves a better neighbor and friend than the people who have known Althea all her life.
My only quibble with this book is precisely who the audience is. Though content-wise, I wouldn't mind giving it to a middle-grade reader, I wonder how interested they're going to be in the marriage machinations of a time long ago. The best audience, I'm guessing, will be those kids who already enjoy a light romance.
But for this reader? Touches of Cinderella, Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer made this book all I hoped it would be.