Read This: Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish

Longtime Beatrice readers might recall that I read a batch of Christmas-themed romances around this time last year; I meant to repeat the project this holiday season, but was only able to get to Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes before the 25th.

Although Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish is the first in a sequence of novels spun off from Burrowes’ bestselling “Duke’s Obsession” trilogy (The Heir, The Soldier, and The Virtuoso), that doesn’t really come into play until you’re already well into the story. It begins at a London inn, where Vim (short for Wilhelm) Charpentier is trying to find a seat on a carriage to Kent in the middle of a snowstorm. He’s distracted by a squalling child, which is how he meets Sophie Windham, who was there to see the baby boy and his mother off on another carriage—except that the mother, a servant in Lady Sophie’s household, elects to pull a runner, leaving the child behind. Now it’s crucial here that Sophie doesn’t tell Vim that she’s a Lady, and the daughter of the Duke of Moreland, allowing him to think that she’s another servant in the mostly-empty household. (The Duke and Duchess have gone off to their country estate, where they are expecting Sophie, along with her brothers, who are the heroes of Burrowes’ previous romances.) This frees the couple up to spend several days (almost entirely) alone together with young Kit in a snowed-in house while Vim shows Sophie how to raise a baby—he’s had a lot of step-siblings—and they fall in love.

The story’s execution isn’t quite perfect: The scenes where Burrowes breaks away from Vim and Sophie to check in on the brothers who are on their way to collect her for the family reunion, or to note the anxiety of the Duke and Duchess and Vim’s aunt and uncle, are well-done, but they’re also distracting—though readers who are already Burrowes fans might welcome the opportunities to see how her heroes have been faring. On the other hand, you do need some sense of the brothers’ personalities for the back half of the book, as they react to discovering Vim and Sophie’s developing relationship, so it’s not as if you can cut those passages. The more significant problem, from my perspective, was that Vim’s backstory hinges on a slight suffered at the hands of Moreland so humiliating that it’s driven him to spend the last dozen years sailing the globe in order to be anywhere other than home—clearly a life-defining incident, and yet he fails to recognize that Windham is the Moreland family name. That part of the story just doesn’t seem plausible.

What does seem plausible, even under the contrived circumstances, is the slow burn of the attraction between Vim and Sophie. It gets a bit talky at times, in that “let’s lay the emotional subtext out on the table and dissect it” way, but there’s a core authenticity to the way the two interact, and then in the way that the hurt and confused Vim interacts with Sophie’s aggressive brothers. The dialogue swerves into anachronism occasionally (I’m pretty sure “shut up and listen” isn’t Regency-era speech), but no more so, at least to my ears, than is generally acceptable within the genre, and the motivations beneath the dialogue feel convincingly genuine. Vim in particular is a likeable hero, worldly but gentle if a bit pigheaded about clinging to the past, and his strengths as a character compensate for the weaknesses of Sophie as the sensible but lonely duke’s daughter who yearns to push the envelope of propriety to discover intimacy.

So, what about the Christmas aspect? In that regard, Lady Sophie fares slightly better than last year’s reading, in that the action is all confined to late December, and the immanence of Christmas is evident throughout. That said, it’s not so much a Christmas story that one wouldn’t be able to read it at any other time of the year, which is only proper considering that it fits into a larger sequence of Burrowes’ stories. And it definitely has me interested enough to pick up the copy of The Soldier that’s kicking around in my bookcase at some point…

28 December 2011 | read this |