Marian Halcombe by Brenda W. Clough

A Victorian drama set in the mid 19th century. The title character has accepted her spinsterhood, believing she is too plain to attract a husband until widower Theophilus Camlet enters her life. Even then, Marian has difficulty believing love has come her way, especially when the suitor appears to be a perfect match. Eventually, a marriage proposal leads to marriage. When the happy couple returns from their honeymoon, it is to find the first Mrs Camlet installed in the house. I hardly need to say that complications develop from there, and I don’t want to give too much away except to say that Camlet ends up in prison twice.

Marian is her beloved’s staunch advocate, never losing faith in him and never letting anything stand in her way as she pursues the truth. In her endeavours, she is assisted by her sister and brother-in-law who, while doing his best to help, tries to rein in Marion’s rash tendencies. She has a habit of leaping headfirst into situations without giving any thought to her safety or the safety of her unborn child. I did not care for the character of Marian. She seemed to me to be too mannish, as if, in order to create a ‘strong’ female protagonist, the author had written a male character and just changed the clothes and pronouns. She is too assertive, too reckless for a woman of her time. The author did a better job with the gentle sister and the thoughtful, dependable brother-in-law.

I also have to question the subtitle ‘… the most dangerous woman in Europe.’ Nothing in this story, the first of three, suggests Marian deserved that description.

Aside from my dislike of Marian, I found much to like in this book. The writing is so reminiscent of the period, particularly the dialogue but also the narrative. The author has captured the flavour of the era nicely and without long and irrelevant descriptions of clothing. Full marks for that. Also, the plot never lets up. No sooner do the characters begin to believe their problems are over than another wrinkle appears.

On the whole, this is an enjoyable book that kept my interest and I have no hesitation in recommending it.

****

The Governor’s man by Jacquie Rogers

Set in Roman Britannia, this book has an intriguing beginning. A messenger is accosted by two men who cut off his head. They are not common robbers. They only want the message. One of them puts something in the dead boy’s mouth before tossing the head into the bushes.

The story is taken up two months earlier when Frumentarius (investigator) Quintus Valerius returns to Rome to find his wife gone, along with all the furniture and slaves, and a notice of divorce awaiting him. He asks his brother-in-law to sell the house and send the proceeds to his mother. Free of encumbrances, he is soon on his way to Britannia to investigate why money from the imperial mines has suddenly dwindled. The governor in Britannia is Gaius Trebonius, who had once saved his life and who he trusts. Trebonius gives him as an assistant, Tyro a native just released from the drunk tank. Quintus sees him as more of an encumbrance than an asset, while Tyro views the investigator as a stiff-necked toff.

Although the pair start out looking for the Emperor’s missing money, they are soon involved in two murders, the second possibly incited by the White Ones, Druids who were thought to have been wiped out a century earlier. As well, the tribes are stirring, a revolt is in the air.

All of which is complicated by Quintus’s guilt over his inability to save his brother and his painful history with Julia who he meets on the way to the mine. Thirteen years earlier, they fell in love but Quintus was called home to Rome to deal with a family scandal and left without knowing she was pregnant. The relationship is fraught with tension because one is resentful and the other is determined not to get involved again. Deeper feelings and further complications run through their encounters.

The book is a reflection of how unsettled life was in Roman Britannia. It is a complex story with many threads that the author weaves together deftly. There is enough going on to fill two or three novels, but I have to say, I was never confused.

An excellent book that I believe will interest more than just those who like to delve into the Roman world.

*****

Jacquie Rogers had several careers, including advertising and university lecturing, before finding writing suited her best. Her short stories have been published in several countries. In 2020 she was Runner Up in the Lincoln Book Festival story competition.

‘The Governor’s Man’ is the first in her series of novels set in 3rd century Roman Britain, published in May 2021 by Sharpe Books.

After a nomadic existence for most of her life, Jacquie now lives in the Malvern Hills of England. She walks the hills daily with her husband Peter and their frantic Staffie-cross, Peggy. When pandemics permit, Jacquie loves to travel by motorbike and enjoys discussing politics, travel and books with friends and family. She spends a lot of time in cafes and pubs.

Jacquie blogs at jacquierogersauthor.com YouTube: The Governor’s Man by Jacquie Rogers

Other connections: linktr.ee/jacquierogers

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