Author: Julianne Donaldson
Publisher: Shadow Mountain Press
Other Reviews for This Author: None
Edenbrooke is one of those novels that captures a reader's attention because of the voice. In the past few months, reviewers and book people have been slowly praising this book more and more. It's a release from a small press that has taken the book's concept to a new level of marketing - instigating the book as a "proper romance" because of the lack of sexy-times. Now, as interested as I was in the book, the marketing plan made me uneasy (and still does) because I don't like the implications that it creates in terms of an appropriate romance. The concept and voice were praised so highly that I couldn't help but try it, and I was pleasantly surprised by Edenbrooke on the whole, although some aspects of it prevented me from really loving the novel the way others did. It's a very clean young-adult romance that reminds the reader of Jane Austen without trying to be Jane Austen, and will certainly enchant readers who want a light romance with a historical spin.
Marianne is a tomboy. She goes outside to twirl, leaving behind her bonnet and any notion of having lady-like qualities. She'd much rather walk in the gardens, ride horses, and learn how to fence than stay in the drawing room and embroider with other refined ladies. It's just not in Marianne's nature. Marianne has lived with her grandmother since her mother died in a horseback riding accident, sending her father into a severe state of mourning. His depression led him to travel to France for some time, and he sent his twin daughters off to be cared for. Marianne to her grandmother's house, and Cecily to a house owned by their mother's former best friend. The sisters' separation has since led to Marianne feeling more lonely than ever and more aware of her unusual personality.
Though Cecily often travels to London and has had her season, the house she resides in is in the country. Marianne, by contrast, resides in Bath, which is far too much of a town setting for her liking. She can't truly be alive and go outside the way she used to. An invitation from Cecily to come spend time with her at the country estate - a lavish house known as Edenbrooke - leaves Marianne ecstatic. She can escape her grandmother's criticism, even if it is meant in a loving nature, and spend time with her sister - in the countryside, where she can twirl outside and find true comfort. Marianne's grandmother allows her to go, giving her a bit of a shock in the process. Marianne discovers that she has been named the new heir to her grandmother's very wealthy estate in lieu of her grandmother's rakish nephew, but she will only inherit the fortune if she can learn to be a proper lady.
Edenbrooke makes becoming a proper lady very, very difficult. The journey to the estate is harrowing, as Marianne and her maid get attacked by a highwayman on the coach ride there. Their coachman is wounded, forcing them to take shelter at a nearby inn. There, Marianne meets a mysterious gentleman who helps assist with her coachman's recovery. The gentleman takes great interest in Marianne, though Marianne doesn't believe she has any interesting traits or looks. He departs that night, never once giving her his name or station. She continues on to Edenbrooke and begins to adjust to life there, soon realizing that the man she met that night has not left her life completely...and that the danger of the highwayman could still be present.
Shadow Mountain Publishing bills Edenbrooke as a book that has the addictive romance of Twilight, but without the vampires. Comparing young adult books to Twilight is inevitable for people like me, as I often compare books to other books in order to gauge why I like/dislike the experience. It's usually in the plot/execution of the novel that similarities are noted, which is expected, but Edenbrooke is more reminiscent of Twilight in its heroine than anything. Marianne is the quintessential Every-Girl. Yes, she's "unusual" because she prefers going outside and horseback riding, but her tomboyish nature barely registers compared to her overwhelming feelings of being average in the world. Unlike her Twilight-counterpart Bella, Marianne is more headstrong and resistant to the guy of choice, but as a character she's very vague when it comes to her personality. The reader imagines Marianne as a character that would theoretically challenge society more. She's supposedly a girl that does that on a daily basis with her preferences. However, Marianne's narrative is more subdued than one would expect. She does grow more confident in herself and her likes as the novel wears on, but her constant need to please other people and deny her self makes her adventurous side seem less-than-stellar. Normally I'm very taken with a character like Marianne - a character who feels average, has some very distinctive traits, but fears hurting other people if she is too much herself - but in this narrative, the character never truly caught my attention. The character has been done so much in YA and in historical romance, and in both cases the character is often more vivacious about their differences. That kind of strength of self along with the concerns is key for the reading experience, and in this case the character growth never gave a strong enough impression for me to truly connect or care about Marianne's outcome.
The other characters were incidentally about as memorable for me. Philip, the love interest, is ever charming and constantly pushes Marianne's buttons in just the right way. He's handsome but a total gentleman, and the romantic interest in him is understandable. He's nearly perfect, but has a few faults that keep him from seeming unbelievable. He does possess very obvious romantic feelings for Marianne early on, and the romantic tension between them is pretty much non-existent. Philip lacks subtly, and the issue is that nothing really keeps these two characters apart with enough real force or believability in order to make that romantic tension occur. Edenbrooke features some plot twists and intrigue that prevent the characters from getting to know one another, but most of it involves Marianne blatantly ignoring Philip's advances and then suffering from two or three cases of Big Misunderstandings (a term associated with romance novels, as the BM is a common trope). I'm never one for a Big Misunderstanding, but when two or three of them are used in succession, I dislike the usage and find that it takes away from the storyline. They often feel fabricated to prolong the romance when it doesn't really need the understanding to move forward. Marianne's issues with pleasing other people would have been there whether or not some of the misunderstandings occurred, as the plot of the novel addressed the issue in other ways as well.
The other characters range from being lovable and quirky to being frustrating in their portrayals. There are some secondary characters like Lady Caroline, Mr. and Mrs. Clumpett, and Betsy that will make the reader chuckle with their antics. These characters often have a level of grace and intelligence about their person, but are also unique and possess a few defining quirks that make them fun to read about. The biggest secondary character that grows in importance is Cecily, Marianne's twin sister. Cecily is the root of Marianne's selfless personality, and her depiction in Edenbrooke is extremely frustrating as time goes on. Cecily is pictured as a girl who has changed with her first Season in London. She's shallow, forever obsessed with finding a rich and suitable husband (and has set her sights on Philip, causing Marianne's need to quell her feelings for the boy), and not nearly as reserved as her sister is. Cecily's transformation is understandable at some levels, but at other times Donaldson took the characterization too far for my tastes. Cecily is portrayed as very uncaring as to whether or not she gets her physical pleasures from the same man she aims to marry - she blatantly discussing how rakes kiss better than proper gentlemen anyway. This gets repeated several times, and I couldn't help but feel that the contrast between Marianne, the "good" sister, and Cecily was offensive. Edenbrooke is not a novel of sexual tension at all. The main couple kisses once, and that's only after a lot of romantic struggles. It felt like Cecily's character was sending the message that a girl being more sexually aware and having kissed someone was a bad person - her attitude certainly went along with it. In some ways, it makes sense because of the time period, but Edenbrooke is a novel based more on the romance than the historical aspects of the novel. Cecily becomes a more sympathetic and accepting character at the end of the novel, but the initial reaction to her thread of characterization just didn't strike me as being one I could fully enjoy or feel justified based on the narrative.
What made Edenbrooke an enjoyable read was Donaldson's style. There's very much an inspiration from Pride and Prejudice in the writing. Everything has a veil of wit to it, and there are passages that read quite nicely. The style itself is simple and not attempting to mimic Austen's own, which is helpful for the book's readability. Edenbrooke has wonderful descriptions with just enough historical detail to feel like a historical setting, but the key to being immersed in the storyline is the emotional impact of the first-person narration. Everything is exciting and has a lot of emotional depth to it. The romantic scenes seem extremely romantic, and the scenes of disappointment seem equally sad. Marianne is an emotional heroine that really gets the reader invested in that portion of herself - even if the reader doesn't much care about the actual plot movement of the story - and that makes it a treat to read. Marianne's narration can get a bit old at times, as she has a strong tendency to immediately go from liking Philip to disliking him - and many times over silly things that make the change feel disjointed to the reader. She also has a like for exclamation points that quickly gets a bit old and patterned to the narrative. It's very Marianne, but after a while the reading experience would hitch at the sight of those exclamation points.
As many criticisms as I had for Edenbrooke, I actually enjoyed reading the book. It had a great voice to it, and the writing was easy to read for a long period of time. The trouble was that I was never really invested in it. Nothing held enough romantic tension, and the characters never struck my reader-ly chords. Many readers have come away loving Edenbrooke, and I suspect that it will be a novel that will continue to impress a majority of young-adult readers and even historical romance readers (those that prefer non-sexual romance ala inspirational romance, anyway). Edenbrooke just wasn't for me - a novel that used too many characterizations I disliked and tropes that halted the reading experience, but managed to keep me reading because of the light nature of the book and the writing style.
Cover: This cover is rather gorgeous. I love the estate at the bottom and the girl walking through the trees at the top. It's so picturesque.
Rating: 3.0 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Shadow Mountain Publishing and Pam!)
Note: Be sure to check out my giveaway for an ARC of the novel here!