It's been a while since I've really enjoyed a Cathy Maxwell romance. in fact, I actively disliked the last one I read several years ago so I wasn't exactly looking forward to reading The Marriage Ring. However, I was pleasantly surprised at just how very much I enjoyed this book.
Grace MacEachin's father, a vicar in Inverness, was accused by the Lynsted twins of embezzling the funds of an elderly parishioner. He spent time in jail and the family was destroyed. Grace has always believed that the Lynsteds had allowed her father to take the fall for their own crime and now, long after the fact, she is trying to get justice and restore her father's good name. She has sent a letter to the Lynsteds threatening to expose their misdeeds if they do not financially compensate her father.
Richard Lynsted, son and nephew to the Lynsted Twins, as they are known, is determined to put a halt to Grace's blackmailing. He accosts her but she convinces him that there may be more to the story than what he has been told - especially after they are attacked, with Grace the obvious target. They decide to travel to Inverness where Richard will hear the story from Grace's father and determine the truth for himself.
My beef with Maxwell has been that she writes interesting characters, but puts them into cliche-ridden plots and has them reacting in thoroughly predictable ways. While there were some plot problems (this is obviously the second book of a series and so I felt a bit lost on some background details and the whole set up for the road trip is a bit clunky), for the most part Grace and Richard's adventures took them to quite unexpected places and situations. How refreshing!
Grace is an interesting mixture of boldness and vulnerability. She's been singing on the London stage as The Scottish Songbird and fending off importuning men even though she is sexually experienced. She feels responsible for the breakup of her family and is well aware of the great social gulf between her and Richard.
Richard has always been a bit of a prig and fought a silent battle with his uncle for his father's affections and respect, even going so far as to embrace their rigid morals regarding fornication and remain a virgin until he weds the demure woman he's been engaged to for four years. I confess to having a hard time believing this aspect of Richard's personality, but his feelings of unworthiness and self-esteem issues rang true.
Grace and Richard both change during their adventures, finding strength in each other and, most importantly, confidence in themselves. The truth of the embezzlement mystery took me by surprise and the way Grace and Richard handled it showed just how far they had traveled, both in miles and in personal growth.
The Marriage Ring isn't a perfect book, but it is a surprising and an enjoyable one.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, March 16, 2010