At the heart of this story is a completely malignant marital relationship. Between Edmund and Rachel Douglas. What I didn't understand or like is how Rachel comes out smelling of roses. Edmund basically terrorised the heroine, Elissande, for years. But it was Rachel who took away Elisande's identity. By telling her she was Edmund's daughter not his niece. One is as bad as the other. But somehow Rachel gets a happy ending. And it was Rachel who made Elisande feel so desperate that she basically pimped herself out. By the end of the book I absolutely hated Rachel. With her sudden recovery from her laudanum addiction. After placing her daughter in the position of a stool-counting servant for countless years. Yuk. Vere should have banished Rachel from his many homes.
For me. There was just too much underlying misery in the story. The way Vere treats Elissande is often very harsh. It sometimes seemed that Elissande had exchanged one tyrant for another. But that's what can happen when you just latch on to a complete stranger to be your protector. The book also contains a really miserable drunk consumation scene. Something that shouldn't really appear in a so-called romance nowadays. I liked the scenes when they were both pretending to be idiots. But there were just too few pages where they brought each other happiness. Especially very few happy nookie scenes. Even not many nice kissing scenes.
Basically the putrid relationship between uncle and aunt just took up too much of the book. I especially didn't appreciate the scenes where Edmund punched Elissande in the face. The two of them contributed to the enslavement of Elissande. And she should have been able to see that. Instead the reader gets an 'I love you Mommy - always and forever' scene. Charles Dickens always allowed the reader to recognise an evil emotionally manipulative parent. In this book we're supposed to empathise with her. It spoiled the story for me.
And. After spending about three quarters of the book (rightfully) despising Elissande, suddenly Vere had a change of heart. (coldly narrated in the third person)
Well-written. And heartless. Not that the reader will realise this until well over half-way into the book. Took me just 6 hours to read. That's because the writing style sucks the reader in. Only towards the final chapters does the reader realise that actually the story really isn't very nice...or romantic.