My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I’ll start by stating that I really enjoyed Passion and Propriety by Elise De Sallier. This is also the first in the Hearts of Honour series, certainly quite the strong start to a new series! Even though, at times, the author’s writing style seemed a bit too heavy for my liking, it didn’t deter my enjoyment completely.
Passion and Propriety tells the story of two childhood friends who grew apart when ‘life’ happened to them. That, and their unequal social status. Years later, they’re thrown together again, as if to test to their faith in God and their love for each-other. The storyline sounded pretty original, with a younger man-older woman theme. But most importantly, this story had a really favorite theme of mine; a virgin hero. :p
William, the only heir to the Blackthorn line, hasn’t had a happy childhood. His life was mired in abuse by his alcoholic father, notorious for his lecherous lifestyle. It seems that the Blackthorn clan is not supposed to have a long and happy married life as the last couple of generations have seen their spouses dying at childbirth and leaving them with an infant; the only heir, always a boy. Thus the Blackthorn curse was born. William’s ancestors wasted away in debauchery after their spouses died, not because there was love but because they couldn’t ‘break the curse’ or so to speak. His father was no exception. And however unbelievable it sounds, he couldn’t stand William at all, citing him the reason behind his mother’s death. Everyone around the village knows of this curse. The marriage mamas do their best to keep their daughters away from this family.
William was send away to school very young. Before and after that, his only family of sort was the local vicar’s family. The Vicar, Mr. Foster, has always been kind to him. He didn’t give any credence to the curse and treated William like any other normal boy. But the one person who has always been on William’s mind was Hannah, the vicar’s eldest daughter. A kind girl, she has been his playmate. William simply worshipped Hannah but never had the courage to say anything.
When his father’s behavior went down a new level, a teenage William left home finally, never wishing to return. He has been disillusioned so early in life that he’s bitter about his legacy. William joined the army, was promoted too, through his own skills and devotion, rather than by his status. It seemed like ages passed by in between but William is still adamant of never setting foot on this pile to stone. He has appointed a land agent to take care of things. He sends money to take care of everything. According to him, he’s doing his duty.
Moreover, William also wishes to remain the last of his life, which means never to marry and beget an heir. It seemed that fate was about to grant William his wishes. He’s badly wounded in war, and without proper care and attention, he becomes very ill. This time he’ll die, and God willing, take the life-destroying curse with him to his grave. And so, William returns to his ancestral home after all. To die.
But that’s not going to happen if Hannah Foster has any say to it. When she spies on the big, scruffy, dirty looking man in the church, Hannah was preparing to be officially declared as a spinster. Now in her late 20s, she has no prospect of marrying anyone. It’s not that Hannah never wanted it but with her two very beautiful, much younger sisters, Naomi and Rachel trailing her, Hannah never got the attentions she deserved. Though their mother’s passing left a hole in their happiness, the Fosters are a close knit family and Hannah is the spinning wheel, the center of it. She’s efficient, hard working and has as much social graces as a vicar’s daughter needs to help her father in his duties. It was Hannah who practically had to be the mother to her sisters, as they were quite young at the time of their mother’s death.
Yet, even after so many years of not seeing him, Hannah hasn’t forgotten about that young boy who used to play with her once upon a time. A boy who seemed lost and alone in this world. Hannah had tried her best to be a friend but he was the heir to a viscount and she’s just the vicar’s daughter. What else she could’ve done to help his situation? That boy, now undoubtedly a man, doesn’t even visit his home anymore. The village is in shambles, thanks to the corrupt land agent but Hannah doesn’t blame William one whit. She knows about the curse too and how badly the people here treated him over the years just because he’s born a Blackthorn, an occurrence that’s not even his fault.
When Hannah sees the man, he was staring at her straight. It sends a shiver down her spine. She doesn’t know who he is so she decides to let it go. Soon afterwards, when Hannah is visiting her mother’s grave, she finds that man lying prone near a grave, that of the recently deceased old Viscount. This gives her a pause... What if? Is it...? When she looks closely, somehow, even through the blood and dirt, she recognizes William. It’s very apparent he’s gravely ill, probably dying. The recognition and that thought spring Hannah into action. She needs to help him, somehow... if she can. Even if for their long forgotten friendship; a thing of the past now.
With Hannah and her family’s help, William is taken to his rundown manor that is now operating only by the two elderly caretakers. Since she knew she can’t expect much help from the people of the village, Hannah decides to take up on the task. From the bits and pieces he, in his insensible state, blabber on, it was clear that William expected to die. But Hannah won’t have it. Now that she’s ‘officially’ a spinster, whose going to nay-say her if she decides to stay? Her father is not oppose to the idea, though her sisters and her best friend, Grace, the healer of the village, are a bit skeptical. People can be vicious in their gossip! But Hannah laughs those concerns away and soldiers on to fight for William’s life.
For days and nights, she keeps her vigilance at his side; sometimes even helping with William’s intimate needs that a unmarried woman shouldn’t even be thinking of. And that leads to some hilarious moments when William finally opens his eyes and sees Hannah asleep on a chair near his bed. He’s so happy to see the girl he recognized as the kind vicar’s daughter. It pains him that he can’t exactly recall her name. When Hannah wakes up and he needs to take care of his… er, bladder, he’s mortified to know that she’s the one who has been taking care of him; including that. Thinking she must be married, William let her help. Still it was quite awkward. But the moment Hannah confessed that she’s unmarried, ooh boy, William’s delicate sensibilities went haywire. He’s so embarrassed that he immediately demands that she hires someone to work as his temporary valet, while she writes to his own valet to come to make himself present as soon as possible!
Hannah does what he tells her in a huff, and muttering but somehow she understood. While they’re at it, she apprises William about the state of the manor, the village and everything else, when William is strong enough to listen to them. It became clearer that the big chucks of money he send to his land agent probably fed his own pocket. As soon as he’s able, now that it’s apparent he’s not going to die, thanks to one Miss Foster, William is determined to see to his long pending duties to his people.
Though I felt that William’s old worshipful feelings about Hannah returned in full force, certainly after what she did for him, he was very much embarrassed about his looks. :( He’s a big man with a big body, which might’ve saved him in the end but he was also wounded pretty badly. His body is scarred, with a leg that formed a decided limp that might never heal. One of his arms has also been damaged. The camp doctor wanted to amputate but William didn’t let him. That one’s almost of no use to him. Then there was that scar, a big gash that permanently etched out the horrors of war on his face. William is strong but he’s also vulnerable. What good would he be to his estate with so many hindrances? Would Miss Foster think of him anything but an ugly man with what seems like an eternal curse hanging over his head? Oh he wants to find out, but he’s also afraid. William is almost certain that given the chance he’d marry her in a heartbeat but that’d be always be a fantasy that will never come true. Or so our hero thought...
The opportunity lands soon after Hannah left the manor. At home, she isn’t as happy as she used to be because Hannah begins missing William quite fierce. Oh she doesn’t care about his scars or that big gash on his face. In truth, Hannah is quite smitten with her testy patient and she finds all the talks of the curse balderdash. She doesn’t really believe in it but the people around her wouldn’t let it be. Then she begins to notice how others would deem William a monster of sort and gossip away like he doesn’t deserve even an ounce of respect. But Hannah knew better, and she couldn’t stand it any longer. Once, when Rachel, the airhead in the bunch, says something bad about William, Hannah protests quite vehemently and leaves the room. But this also reveals something rather interesting to her family members. There was no hiding now, that she harbors some sort of feeling for the man.
Grace, the village healer who helped Hannah with William’s recovery, stops by to warn her about it. Hannah can’t possibly be feeling something for that man! Not only she’s from a lower status, but also... I mean he’s cursed! And if he’d ever marry her, which would never happen, she’s bound to die in childbed! Hannah, though, doesn’t agree with Grace’s sentiment. They might never be together, but he’s a good man and treated her with respect. Grace also informs Hannah about the gossip that the busybodies were spreading over her and William’s ‘relationship’. Hannah is not that worried at the moment. After all, what can really happen to a spinster?
In the meantime, a visibly stronger William takes up on his responsibilities. He begins to take stock of things that need to be done in his own home as well as for his people. His actions were so much like the true lord of the manor that people begin wondering about him anew. It’s true that his ancestors’ track record is horrible, so William knew that his has his work cut out for him. Yet for the first time in his life, he wanted to do something for these people. Most especially, he couldn’t let Hannah’s family suffer anymore.
Of all the improvement work William starts in that short time, what inevitably catches everyone’s attention is his particular interest in the church and the vicarage. William could argue that both places needed vast repairs, which would be true, and he secretly wanted Hannah nearby while the repairs take place but the gossip would always connect them in a damaging way. Either way, vile stuff begins to fly very soon. Hannah is not worried about herself but she’s for William and how those will affect him in the long run. Yet, she can’t deny her happiness at William’s kind attention on their home... and somehow, on her too.
It wasn’t until someone threatens Hannah of spreading the gossip and robbing her sisters’ futures that she becomes truly worried. She meets up with William in hopes for a solution. True enough, he’s angry at the culprit, promising her to take care of it. But that won’t squelch the gossip already let loose. They need to think on a solution, and fast. But what will it be?
William, of course, ends up proposing to Hannah, to her complete surprise yet secret delight. I can say the same for him because wasn’t that what he wanted all along? The kiss after her acceptance made it even more of a possibility. Even though people around Hannah try to act as if she’s going to the gallows, she’s determined to marry William. Even Grace is not supportive of her decision. She leaves in a huff after an altercation, and the tension between her and Hannah doesn’t die down for a while. Oh boy, must add that being of this century I found the whole notion of a curse so ridiculous! Hannah doesn’t care and her father, who should’ve been the one to oppose, surprises both of them by giving his blessing. Even then, the thought of the curse had William in so much distress that he was willing to do anything possible to have it removed and keep Hannah safe. He prays with the vicar, he even goes as far as to make the marriage in name only so that there’s no chance of her conceiving. But this, Hannah will NOT have. She wants children, William’s and many if possible. So we find that she’s also determined to work on it, to see if she can later sway William’s determination.
I knew that ‘marriage in name only’ thing will never ever work. For one, both were so in love with each-other, though none had any idea of the other’s feeling, how can they not want to be in each-other’s arms? Pretending was becoming difficult each passing day. Hannah was a virgin, which I knew but to my delight, I found that William too! It’s not that he doesn’t have the appetite, quite the opposite as we find out soon enough but he has been scared. Always despising the ‘legacy of lechery’ that his ancestors so lovingly(?) built while they were alive, William never felt the urge to take part in that act. But with Hannah, things are different. Not only she’s his wife, but it was also true that she felt the same way! When William is sure that things can’t go on this way, let alone a lifetime, he desperately seeks out his friend, the new land agent, Jonathan Loring’s help. Loring is a widower. He has a sickly young boy, who has accompanied him here at the estate. And though a gentleman (Grace wouldn’t agree with me I think :p), he had, by no means, lived the life of a monk. So he gives William some ideas and asks him to practice them.
Addendum here, Grace loves and practices herbal remedies while Loring doesn’t believe in it but the advanced medical stuff. So apparently, they started out on the wrong foot. He also called Grace the ‘witchy woman’ a few behind her back, a name she probably won’t appreciate. Though they’re not really given any scene together, from whatever I read, I’m sure I’d absolutely love finding out how they resolve their ‘differences’ in their own book. *heehee*
Anyhoo, I won’t be telling you what they decide on but it works out for Hannah and William so well that they begin going at it like the bunnies. LOL I really enjoyed reading how they couldn’t keep their hands off of each-other. That’s how a marriage should be IMO. ;)
The next couple of chapters seemed slow but still enjoyable because I loved seeing how beautifully Hannah and William’s relationship grew when everybody and their grandmother thought they’d never make it. It became even sweeter when they profess their love for each-other, surprised yet delighted to find that the feeling is mutual. There is no denying of William’s complete adoration of his wife. Being a lonely boy, and growing up as an equally lonely man, Hannah’s presence has been the only succor to his life throughout; even when he wasn’t living here. I knew for certain that Hannah always felt him in her heart. Now she’s just relieved that she never got married! Seems like fate has decided to throw them together again, but to what cost? Will they forever remain happy this way? Can Hannah be happy when she knows this happiness comes at a cost? That she’ll probably never have children?
TBH, I wasn’t surprised to find Hannah unhappy. And this issue was the ONLY thorn in their absolute happiness. Hannah wanted children, but the mention of it would scare the sh!t out of William. He was that jumpy, always in terror of losing Hannah forever and having to take care of an infant all on his own. Afraid that the happy memories of them together would forever haunt him. *sigh* Though I found this ridiculous, I was frustrated. It was just... so depressing!
Even after all the precautions, fate intervenes again and one thing leads to another and... well, Hannah one day finds herself pregnant. Though William takes the news stoically, his inner monologues will tell you that it’s not good. He tries to keep calm in order to keep Hannah happy but as Hannah grew bigger with each passing day, his agitation grew tenfold. He was actually already trying to come to terms with Hannah’s death and how he’s going deal with an infant afterwards. That’s what I meant by depressing as hell. And I couldn’t even blame him because the fear, though ridiculous when you think of said curse, was not entirely unfounded considering the era. Then the time grew nearer and given the environment, even Hannah begins feeling uncomfortable about it. The news of a baby has never brought so much tension and shadows on a family, when they should be celebrating the beauty of it wholeheartedly.
The last few chapters of the book were quite gut-wrenching. When Hannah finally goes into labor, to say that things didn’t go smooth would be an understatement. It won’t really express what I was feeling while I was reading that part. At one point, it did feel like she won’t make it....... I felt so sad and miserable for her, maybe because I have no children and what she endured seemed nothing short of superhuman. I could only imagine William’s feelings. Those chapters gave me goosebumps.
In the conclusion, I would’ve loved an epilogue. That’s my only complaint because the ending felt abrupt. But you just can’t NOT be happy for Hannah and William no matter. What a challenge it has been for them to prove everyone, and God, that they can make it! Personally, I’m quite impressed by Elise de Sallier’s efforts as this is my first try of her work. It certainly wouldn’t be the last! A solid 4 stars and recommended.
PS: A bit bummed that Grace-Loring’s book, Duty and Desire will be out in January 2015 but I’ll be eagerly waiting for it!