Review of THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS by EVA IBBOTSON
Here’s another sweet and silly young adult historical romance from Eva Ibbotson. Much of what I said in my review of A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS carries over across Ibbotson’s YA books: especially about the distinct writing that’s very taste-specific and the main flaw being an overly perfect heroine. The writing is formal, wordy, and distant, an omniscient narrator telling all, but those paying attention catch the playful undertones and I often found myself chuckling aloud or smiling at an understated, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that very much appeals to me. As for the overly perfect heroine, everyone adores Tessa who is the epitome of goodwill. I don’t mind these Mary-Sue leads as much as some readers would because they nevertheless feel sincere and genuine to me, but if you prefer complicated, flawed protagonists these books might not be for you.
The premise of this one sounds very familiar to A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS: a high-born young woman down on her luck working far below her class and hiding her title. Tessa is a princess, though a broke princess, who lives for the arts. In her commitment to her passion, she works tirelessly as the under-wardrobe mistress for a small opera company, never revealing her true identity. Guy is a self-made millionaire somewhat shunned by society despite his riches for both his lack of a title and his refusal to hide his orphan past or his unrefined foster mother. Guy, too, lives for the arts, and he lives for his fiancé Nerine who he will soon discover isn’t the woman with shared passions and priorities that he imagined. Throw an assortment of other characters into the bustling cast and you have a rich, weaving romance about how people perfect for each other can miss their chance with poor timing.
Another trend I noticed across both books (and will be interested to see if it comes up in the others I read) is an obsession with long hair. In A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS, everyone’s in awe over Anna’s waterfall of locks, even acting protective in regards to her hair when she muses aloud about cutting it. In fact, there’s an amusing dramatic scene where the romantic interest bursts in on her at the hairdresser demanding she not cut her hair before slinking out in embarrassment and shame as he realizes the absurdity of a man betrothed to another thinking he has any say in what a near stranger does with her hair. In THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS, Tessa does cut her gorgeous, lengthy hair and early on in the novel, but this act becomes proof of her undeniable goodwill, portrayed almost as the ultimate sacrifice.
I adore that Ibbotson doesn’t make her antagonists evil. They’re people. Perhaps selfish, materialistic, vain people, but even they mean well in their own contorted way. Guy’s fiancé for example doesn’t think, “Oh, I’m going to string along this other rich man who’s interested in me in case I don’t ensnare Guy (and his riches) in a marriage.” No, she thinks more along the lines of, “There’s no need to hurt my suitor’s feelings by telling him I’m engaged until it’s official and I’m married.” She's rationalizing self-serving actions, but I find that more interesting than characters who almost set out to be the bad guy.
Another sweet, silly, and satisfying read from Ibbotson. Over time expect to see reviews of all her books on this blog!