One of the great pleasures of reading JAFF is that I have also discovered Regency-era romance fiction. In fact I just finished reading a book in this genre: Perception & Illusion by Catherine Kullmann. Today I have not only a review for you but an excerpt as well … and a couple of extra treats.
Blurbing the book:
Cast out by her father for refusing the suitor of his choice, Lallie Grey accepts Hugo Tamrisk’s proposal, confident that he loves her as she loves him. But Hugo’s past throws long shadows as does his recent liaison with Sabina Albright. All too soon, Lallie must question Hugo’s reasons for marriage and wonder what he really wants of his bride.
Perception & Illusion charts Lallie’s and Hugo’s voyage through a sea of confusion and misunderstanding. Can they successfully negotiate the Rocks of Jealousy and the Shoals of Perplexity to arrive at the Bay of Delight or will they drift inexorably towards Cat & Dog Harbour or the Dead Lake of Indifference?
Catherine Kullmann’s skillful evocation of the Regency period rings true, as do her protagonists’ predicaments. It is a joy to step into this other world with her.
Perception & Illusion by Catherine Kullmann
The Great Ocean of Love represents a period of life that all persons are supposed at some time or another to pass.
Lallie knew the instant she set foot in the house that her father was making one of his rare visits to Alwood. It was difficult to define what had changed. The house was quieter, almost unnaturally so and the atmosphere was charged with a peculiar tension.
“Excuse me, Miss Grey.”
John, their only footman, noiselessly closed the door to the servants’ quarters and carefully steadied a tray of decanters and glasses before carrying it to the library. He wore his best livery. Balancing the tray on one hand, he slowly turned the door knob so that it didn’t squeak. Everyone knew that Mr Grey would not tolerate anything less than perfection and more than one servant had been turned off immediately for failing to meet his standards. It was as if he needed to assert his position as head of the household, despite the fact that he was the most distant of husbands and fathers, Lallie reflected as she hurried to the schoolroom. Her stepmother was not inclined to stand on ceremony at home, but her father would expect his younger children to make a formal visit to the drawing-room before dinner.
Her half-brother James, who was entertaining his younger sisters with stories of his prowess at cricket during the recent summer half, stood awkwardly at her entrance. He had shot up since they had last seen him and was not yet comfortable in this new body. “Lallie,” he reddened at his new deep tone, “will you help me later with my neckcloth? You know how my father is.” She smiled warmly at him. “Of course I will. Beatrice and Eleanor, come with me now, if you please. Once you are ready, you may sit quietly in my room while I change my gown. I’ll come to you then, James and we may all go down together.”
Robert Grey was a slim gentleman of medium height, his clothes the epitome of restrained perfection. His curly fair hair was clipped close and brushed forward a la Caesar, a modish style that suggested a nimbus of laurel leaves crowning his high forehead. The head so embellished was habitually cocked a little to one side while the faint curve to his lips spoke of a jest that only he could appreciate.
“Good God,” he said lightly, when his son followed his sisters into the drawing-room.
“What have we here? A hobbledehoy?”
“Dear James has grown so much, hasn’t he?” Mrs Grey said fondly, ignoring the boy’s
furious blush. “It won’t be long before he’s looking down on you, Robert. He takes after my father, of course.”
Lallie bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself smiling at her father’s petulant expression but something must have betrayed her inner amusement and his gaze swung to her.
“I trust you have been behaving yourself, miss.”
He might have been addressing a recalcitrant ten-year-old instead of a lady of almost twenty-four and Lallie’s chin went up. She met his eyes calmly. “I always do, sir.” He nodded dismissively and went to pour himself a glass of madeira. He sipped, then gestured to the pianoforte. “What have you prepared for our delight this evening, Eleanor?”
The girl blanched and glanced pleadingly at her elder sister. “Come, I’ll turn the pages for you.” As they bent over the music, Lallie whispered, “You play very well and even if you make a mistake, he won’t notice unless you stop. Remember how we practised keeping going?”
At Eleanor’s nod, Lallie spread open a sonatina by Clementi and positioned herself so that she partially shielded the child from her father’s gaze. She noticed that Mrs Grey was talking quietly to her husband on the opposite side of the room.
“He’s not really paying attention,” she hissed to her sister who sighed with relief and plunged into her music.
“Well done, brat,” James exclaimed as soon as she had finished. By the time his mother had finished scolding him for his unseemly language and he had apologised to her and to Eleanor, their father had grown weary of domesticity and dismissed the schoolroom contingent. Lallie was obliged to remain and follow her parents into the dining-room. She could imagine the consternation caused in the kitchen by Mr Grey’s unexpected arrival— while she and Mrs Grey usually sat down to a simple dinner of one course each evening, he would expect two courses with removes and a dessert.
Tonight he surveyed the table critically through his quizzing glass but, apart from complimenting his wife on the Maintenon cutlets, did not comment further on the meal, apparently content to satisfy her curiosity regarding the latest on-dits. He finally launched into a description of the Prince Regent giving Beau Brummel the cut direct.
Brummel then dished himself completely,” he continued with relish. “He looked at Alvanley and, as cool as you please, asked, ‘Ah, Alvanley, who is your fat friend?’ The Prince will never forgive him. He may be unable to prevent his wife roasting a wax effigy of him in front of her fire, but he will not tolerate such public insolence from one so far beneath him.”
“Nor should he,” Mrs Grey said. “I have little patience with these dandies who give themselves airs and set themselves up as the arbiters of all taste. They have ruined many a girl’s chances by declaring her a quiz on her first appearance so that no-one will have anything to do with her. I even heard of one cub who cut his own father because his parent presented too rustic an appearance. You may imagine how wounded the old gentleman was.”
“That’s disgraceful!” Lallie exclaimed.
Her father waved away her protest. “It is the way of the fashionable world. One either sinks or swims. Of course you know nothing of that.”
“That is hardly my fault, sir,” she retorted, nettled. “If my grandmother had lived I would have made my come-out five years ago.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “To what avail, I wonder? Remember she had been completely cast off by her family. I once mentioned to her father that I had married the daughter of Lady Anna Staines. Martinborough looked down his nose and said, ‘I wish you joy, sir, but I do not know either lady’. And the Marchioness was for many years Lady of the Bedchamber to Her Majesty, so it is most unlikely that either you or your grandmother would have been received at court or awarded vouchers for Almack’s.”
Silenced, Lallie was grateful that her stepmother rose as soon as Mr Grey had finished speaking.
“We shall leave you to your port.”
“Go to bed, Lallie,” Mrs Grey instructed once the door had closed behind them. “Good night.”
“Good night, ma’am.”
“They say that young Mr Neville is betrothed,” Lallie told her maid as she prepared for bed. “Oh, who to?” Nancy carefully drew the brush through Lallie’s long, curling hair.
“A Miss Eaton. Her father is Sir William Eaton and she has seven and a half thousand pounds.”
Nancy began to braid the dark hair for the night. “That will please his parents, especially his mother. He wouldn’t have done for you, Miss Lallie. He’s too much under his mother’s thumb. What about the curate? Mrs Hersey would make a better mother-in-law.”
“I doubt if he can afford to wed, especially a penniless girl. He must support his mother and two sisters.”
Lallie liked the young clergyman, but was under no illusions about his circumstances and, if she were to be honest, did not feel that spark of attraction for him that she had felt for Lambert Neville. Still, her prospects were so bleak, she wasn’t sure she could reject an honourable gentleman whom she liked and respected, even if she did not love him.
Nancy tied a small ribbon around the end of the thick plait to hold it in place. “Any man would be proud to have you as a wife.”
Lallie looked fondly at her former nurse. As usual, she was dressed in a neat print dress in subdued shades, over which she wore a starched cotton apron and matching fichu that was pinned at her breast with a mourning brooch containing a lock of Lallie’s grandmother’s hair. To Nancy, this was the emblem of her sacred charge to care for Miss Lallie and she wore it as proudly as a soldier would a medal. Her fair hair was pulled severely back from her forehead into a tight bun which was covered by a lawn cap, but her face was still smooth and her blue eyes bright. She had looked like that as long as Lallie could remember.
“How old were you when I came to you?” she asked suddenly.
“Just sixteen, Miss Lallie. I’ll never forget that day. The house was all at sixes and sevens, with you coming so sudden and your poor mother took so bad.”
“And my father? Was he there?”
“He waited with your grandfather in the library. They called him in at the last. We had laid you in her arms, just for a moment, before the end, and she smiled faintly and was gone, poor lady. He looked down at her, said ‘my poor Louisa, lost to me, lost to me’, kissed her brow and left the room.”
Funny, Nancy thought, she had almost forgotten Mr Grey coming into the nursery the next day and standing beside the cradle. He had smiled oddly and said, ‘my daughter, o my ducats, o my daughter,’ and departed. She had thought ‘ducats’ to be a pet name, like ‘duckling’ or ‘ducky’, but Mrs Staines, who had come in behind him, had looked most strange, angry even and she had never heard him use the word again.
“But I had Grandmamma and Grandpapa and you,” Miss Lallie said. “You were younger then than I am now. Did you never want to get married, Nancy?”
“Not really, Miss Lallie. I had my offers, of course,” she said proudly, “but none that would have tempted me to leave the Rectory. Will that be all, Miss?”
“Yes, thank you, Nancy. I’ll sit and read for a while. Good night.”
“Good night, my dear Miss Lallie.” Nancy skimmed her hand over the younger woman’s hair in a familiar caress. While in public she punctiliously denoted her young mistress’s standing as the eldest daughter of the house by addressing her as Miss Grey, in private she made no secret of her devotion to the girl who had been hastily deposited in her arms as a new-born infant while more skilled attendants strove in vain to save her mother’s life.
Lallie drew her shawl more closely around her shoulders and curled up in the big, threadbare armchair. It had long since been removed to the attics but Mrs Grey had raised no objection when her stepdaughter had asked if she might have it brought to her bedroom. Now the chair was Lallie’s refuge. Here she could read or just let her thoughts drift. Her days were fully occupied; she spent the mornings in the schoolroom while the afternoons were devoted to whatever task Mrs Grey might care to allocate to her.
‘We have no place for idle hands here,’ she had said six years previously when Lallie had come to live at Alwood. ‘Your sisters may now benefit from your expensive education and otherwise you will assist me in my household duties. There is always something to be done.’
But once the evening tea-tray had been removed Lallie was excused, especially on those occasions when her father graced them with his presence.
So the squire’s heir was betrothed. She smiled ruefully, remembering how he had dazzled her at his coming of age ball. She had been in alt when he had twice requested her to stand up with him. Not only that, he had called the next day to invite her to drive out with him and his sister. But her stepmother could not spare her and not long afterwards he had departed for London to acquire some ‘town bronze’, as his father had put it. That had been the end of his interest in a provincial miss.
Lallie sighed. How different her life might have been if Grandmamma had not succumbed to that virulent attack of influenza. Her memories of those grim days were all confused. Her father had been sent for but by the time he arrived in Cornwall the funeral was over and he had insisted on leaving the next day, taking her with him. The journey to Sussex had seemed endless; her head had ached the whole time. She had no memory of arriving at Alwood, just what a relief it had been not to be jolted in the carriage. Then she had been very ill; by the time she had been allowed to leave her room, it was as if a curtain had descended, separating her from her previous life.
At least I have Nancy, Lallie thought. What would I have done if my father had not agreed to take her too? And she is so good to stay with me, even though she has to look after the others as well. She might have preferred to remain near her own family.
Downstairs, Robert Grey poured a glass of port for his wife, who had returned to the dining-room. “Otherwise, all is well here?” he asked casually.
“As well as can be. That is good news about young Neville, although his mother was just as opposed to a match between him and Lallie as we were.”
“But that was some years ago.”
“Lallie still harbours a certain tenderness for him, I think, although I warned her at the time that only a bride with a good fortune and of impeccable breeding would satisfy his mother and that she could not lay any claim to her grandmother’s family; in fact to be disowned, as Mrs Staines was, was worse than having no connection. That taint is not, of course, attached to our children,” she finished with a smug smile.
He raised his glass in appreciation. “How old is she now?”
“She’ll be twenty-four next week.”
“The devil she will!”
“Why, Robert, what is the matter?”
“Her trust comes to an end when she is twenty-five. The trustees will write to her directly then, seeking her instructions.”
“Surely you will continue to handle her affairs?”
“She would have to agree. I found her rather pert this evening.”
“She is certainly not as amenable to direction as she once was, especially since she became friendly with the Herseys. They have set up a little literary circle, as they call it, and it would have looked very odd if I had tried to forbid Lallie to join. Don’t forget I have no true authority over her, should she choose to question it. Allowing her a little independence now may help us retain her income and her services. She is sincerely attached to the girls and has proved to be an excellent governess at no expense to us. Remember her trustees also pay her maid’s wages. All in all, Lallie’s presence contributes some one hundred and forty pounds per annum to this household. I should feel it if she were to leave us. Who knows what she may decide to do once she becomes aware that she is heiress to a little competence.”
Her husband looked thoughtful but said no more.
Excerpt Perception & Illusion © Catherine Kullmann 2017
Really leaves you wanting more, doesn’t it?
And now for my review:
There seem to be trends in historical romance fiction; recently I’ve come across no less than three stories about young ladies of little fortune or dubious parentage (or both) who come into an inheritance of fortune and title to gain a higher place in society. Perception & Illusion is amongst them, and certainly one of the better ones.
The heroine is a lovely, almost penniless young girl with bleak prospects for the future who drifts through a quiet country life … until she meets a young man who is line for a peerage. They fall in love and get married in very short order. After they are married she learns that she is in fact an heiress, and her new husband is concerned that people will think him a fortune-hunter. That is only the first of many misconceptions to which this loving couple succumb; their marriage is a series of cross-purposes that serve to prevent them from finding their true happily ever after.
In one heart-breaking encounter after another, they misinterpret each other’s actions and seem destined to end up like all the other loveless couples of their acquaintance, until a final showdown forces them to face their own failures to understand the other. Will these revelations lead them to a closer and more loving understanding, or will it compel them to admit their marriage was a mistake and push them even further apart?
What I liked most:
How the author charmingly relates each chapter to the Matrimonial Map.
The way the main characters are drawn as sympathetic but flawed. My heart really ached for them to learn to better understand each other, because I very much liked both of them. It was impossible not to root for them to find the happiness they deserve.
Mam’selle ‘Ubertine (see photo).
Insights into Regency life, and learning some new terms from the era.
A mostly clean read with just enough spice, and with only a very occasional typo.
What I liked least:
The sheer number of characters. Each one was indispensable to the story, but I have to admit that I tend to lose track of characters when there are so many in a story – especially if they have titles and thereby essentially two names (e.g., John Jones, Earl of Smith). Eventually, however, everything fell into place.
If you like Pride and Prejudice, the ultimate story of two lovers being at cross-purposes, I am certain you will enjoy Perception & Illusion. I know I did. A definite five-star read!
Catherine’s website is a treasure trove of Regency information and fun stuff. Do stop by!
Your comments, as always, are most welcome!