My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
The Baron’s Wife (formerly titled Night Garden) was on my TBR list for quite a few years, since before it was republished this year. Funnily enough, when I started, I didn’t know this was the same book as Night Garden, but I’m so glad that finally I gave it a try cause I really enjoyed the story. This is my first Maggi Andersen book and definitely won’t be my last!
The Baron’s Wife is set at the turn of the century England. Our h, Laura is an educated woman who had attended university, and a staunch supporter and activist of women’s suffrage. After her twin sister Eliza’s death, Laura is now the only child of her peer of the realm parents. Though Lord Parr supports his daughter’s cause, her mother is old-fashioned and finds it all rather too bold and pointless as women, in her mind, will never have the same freedom as men. Lady Parr despairs of Laura, who refuses to marry and be bound to a man who may put an end to all her life’s dream, her hard work.
One rainy day though, that changed when Laura met Nathaniel, Baron Lanyon and fell for him on spot. Even though Laura refused to think that she may be so attracted to a man that her good senses are leaving her, it was what it was. Laura was hopelessly attracted to this man she’d just me that day! Nathaniel escorts her home as she was alone on her way there out of concern and meets her mother. Lady Parr is more than interested in tall, dark and handsome Nathaniel. He had an old title and a good standing in the parliament. Plus he was young and rich, so she expected Laura to encourage his suit. Though Laura wasn’t sure at first, soon to her surprise, it was apparent enough that Nathaniel was indeed interested in her! One thing led to another, and after a short, whirlwind courtship, Laura finds herself as Lady Lanyon, forever bound to a man she knows little about.
Prior to her marriage, Laura knew Nathaniel was a widower. His first wife passed away a few years ago, and there were no children. Even though her initiation to married life was amazing, Laura distinctly felt that Nathaniel became aloof right afterwards. He was very considerate of her, no doubt about it and showed his affections all too well. However, on certain matters he would grow quiet, erecting a wall around him. And he wouldn’t stay the night with her, something that distressed Laura to no end.
Nathaniel, of course, had his reasons as we find from a few passages from his own POV. His first marriage to Amanda, an incomparable society beauty, was another whirlwind affair but nothing like what he had with Laura. It was pure lust and they couldn’t keep their hands off of each-other. But Amanda was never happy at being Wolfram, Nathaniel’s chief residence situated in Cornwall. He liked being there and spent most of the year in that faraway, centuries old abbey-turned-castle. It had been in his family for just as long. But Wolfram was rather isolated from the mainland. Tides would drown the causeway leaving it totally detached from the main village. It was no place for flighty Amanda, who craved attention and excitement. And she used to seek those out in her own way as Nathaniel, to his utter dismay, found later. She’d been cheating on him continuously with the member of the staff while he was away in London to attend parliament or his own business.
Finally, when Amanda became pregnant, there were rumors that Nathaniel wasn’t the baby’s father. But no one could prove anything, and before long, Amanda was found dead. She was found dead by drowning, though no one knew whether she slipped from that cliff-side bordering Wolfram, or if she was pushed to her death by someone. Since her death remained a mystery, the villagers in and around Wolfram had marked Nathaniel as the villain. And they weren’t afraid of showing their contempt as Laura finds on the first day of her arrival, though she was totally unaware as to why. There was also another reason why Nathaniel was targeted. One of Amanda’s rumored conquests, the head gardener, Theo Mallory made sure the rumor was spread before he took off after Amanda’s death. Nathaniel never liked Mallory, no idea why he was kept on but everyone knew of his very close ‘relationship’ with Amanda.
It’s been 2yrs since then. Burned and betrayed, Nathaniel had decided to stay off another wedding as long as possible. At least until he could make sure Wolfram was safe again. But when he saw Laura, he couldn’t help but feel a visceral need to have her in his life. It was so strong that despite all the warnings in his head, he convinced her to marry him. Now Nathaniel is constantly aware that he’s bringing his new bride back to a place that troubled his own life more than one way possible. Inside, he was afraid of any harm coming to Laura, though he refused to confide in her so as to not alarm her about it. Nathaniel was also vulnerable in his thoughts; what if she leaves him knowing the dark history of Wolfram? I know he didn’t acknowledge it, but I think he also had stronger feelings for Laura that he wanted to reveal. All he wanted was to sort this whole mess out, especially when he learned that Theo Mallory was back and been circling Wolfram for a while now.
Laura had fallen in love with the mysterious and foggy Wolfram castle too, just as she had with her mysterious and aloof husband. And she wanted the gentle and warm stranger, who swept her off her feet, back with her. But, within a few days of her arrival, Laura begins to notice strange things. The fact that it seemed like everyone was hiding something, and that first Lady Lanyon was never the center of any discussion. No one wanted to bring her up.Laura learned she was pregnant at time of her death, but that’s about all she could gather. She learned that the death was ruled accidental but the pall it cast over Wolfram somehow remained. Laura visited Amanda’s grave and paid her tribute, hoping she’d discover something soon to allay her curiosity. Only Nathaniel won’t tell her anything beyond what’s already out there.
Laura also meets an eccentric artist, Cilla, who lived near Wolfram, in a small cottage with Nathaniel’s permission. Though Laura liked Cilla, I was never convinced. For some reason I felt something was wrong with her. As for Laura, she was happy to have someone with enough of an open mind to discuss her interests that included art as well. She was practically alone here with the staff while Nathaniel would return on and off to London due to his work, so Cilla’s companionship was very much welcomed.
From the first moment, the mystery surrounding Amanda’s death was very palpable in the story. Much like Laura, you can’t but wonder that there was something very wrong. Very much missing. I loved how the author set up the backdrop of the whole thing, then leading us to the final climax by one incident after another. She never threw out blatant clues, which is why you’re forever guessing if Amanda was murdered or not. If so, who could it possibly be?! That’s why the mystery surrounding the whole thing keeps you hooked till the end.
When she met Theo Mallory, Laura felt an immediate dislike for him, despite his good-looks and oily charm. Nathaniel returns home to face Mallory, who proves to be as elusive as ever. Laura begins to suspect that Mallory was deeply involved in the age-old business of piracy that has been plaguing the coast of Cornwall for centuries. Nathaniel already suspected as much but had no way of proving it. Things began rushing when Mallory was caught by the police, then, when Nathaniel’s own suspicion about the whole thing turned out to be true. But when Mallory was also found murdered, and an attempt on Laura’s life was made, both Laura and Nathaniel now must find out soon who, or what, is it that was plaguing Wolfram. Could the murderer be ever found to chase the dark shadow around Wolfram away?
Laura also believed that Amanda’s restless spirit visited her from time to time. That she was in and around the castle. There was no definite proof of course, but it was one of those instinctive things that one picks up about a place. Amanda may not have been a nice person in life, Laura was still very sympathetic of the way she died. She wanted to put Amanda’s spirit to rest so Nathaniel could move on too, so they can finally forge the life they deserved together. However, one very important question remained. Since Nathaniel was pretty much determined to keep Laura at bay until things were sorted out, she begins having her doubts about his feelings. Laura begins wondering if Nathaniel still in love with Amanda. If so, can she live with the fact that Nathaniel may never love her? For if not, Laura knew she would never be happy, dying anew each day. I liked how she also became determined to change Nathaniel’s mind, one step at a time. She ardently wanted to help Nathaniel, only he wouldn’t let her become involved. But if he doesn’t trust her with the secrets of Wolfram, how can they ever fight this battle? How can she ever fight something if she didn’t know what or who is it she was fighting?
All the questions are answered later, in a well done, amazing climax that brings Laura and Nathaniel closer than ever. They realize that together they were stronger than they were apart. The puzzles started falling into place, and Wolfram begins settling down, hopefully for the better with happier times in the horizon for Laura and Nathaniel.
Seriously, The Baron’s Wife was a pretty good story! As I mentioned before, I was thoroughly hooked till the end for the big reveal, to know what was going on around Wolfram! The tone of the story was quite Gothic, and the writing excellent. Laura and Nathaniel’s romance was a bit rushed for my liking, mostly because chemistry between them was kind of lukewarm (thanks to Nathaniel’s aloofness for the longest time in the story), but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment nearly as my as I thought it may. Don’t let this bit deter you though. Highly recommend from me. 4.25 stars.