The Affectionate Adversary (by Catherine Palmer)

I’ve read a few books before by Catherine Palmer, and quite liked them; they usually include a romance of some kind, often in unusual settings, and there tends to be a low-key Christian theme running through them.

The Affectionate Adversary is no exception. I downloaded it (free) for my Kindle about three years ago and finally got around to reading it. It’s a historical novel which opens with high drama: Charles is on his way to China with a chest of gold when the ship is attacked by pirates. Meanwhile, Sarah is on her way back to the UK on a different ship. They come across the wreck of the first boat, and rescue the few survivors and a large number of bodies.

It’s rather gruesome, although written in a way that leaves much to the imagination rather than using gory details. Charles is discovered to be alive - just - and gradually nursed back to life by Sarah. They are both well-educated, and become friendly; at first he is delirious, but gradually recovers his sanity and the use of his limbs, by which time they have fallen in love with each other, although Sarah refuses to admit it. Moreover, Charles has no idea that the widowed Sarah is a very wealthy woman, whose former husband was a member of the aristocracy.

The rest of the book features their rather stormy growing relationship, fuelled by misunderstandings and Sarah’s various hangups due to an unhappy childhood. The characters aren’t really three-dimensional although Charles is quite likeable, and Sarah’s two caricatured sisters provide a bit of light relief.

The author had evidently done a great deal of research into Regency England, and drops in various historical references; unfortunately there are a few errors that stand out in an annoying way. I was particularly irritated that on several occasions someone said ‘how do you do’ and was not given the only correct response (ie ‘how do you do’ in return) but responded as if they had been asked (US style) how they were. The author also appeared confused about the class system; Sarah’s father was a merchant, as is Charles’ father. Both are well educated and well-read; class-wise they are on the same foot. Her marrying into the aristocracy would not have turned her into an aristocrat as far as society was concerned.

There’s an unlikely (albeit happy) coincidence towards the end of the book, and far too much introspecting on the behalf of both the main characters - still, it’s a likeable enough story. I would not recommend paying for it - even the Kindle edition is now quite expensive - but it could be worth borrowing to read on holiday as it has slightly more depth than others of this genre. The Christian element is not too strong, and it's unusual in that Sarah's irrational dislike of wealth comes from a misguided view of Scripture, made worse by her background.

This is apparently the first in a series, but I have no plans to read any of the others.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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