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Can He Assume the Life of His Half-Brother?
We meet the hero, Christian Barnes, as he is looking down at the face of his dead half-brother at Waterloo. Christian is the bastard son of the late viscount. The brothers look much alike, and in order to get better medical treatment for his own wounds, Christian decides to swap jackets and papers with his brother. Once back in England, he decides to take his brother’s place and become the viscount. He confides in his Uncle Theo, related on his father’s side, who knew about and did care about him. Things get complicated when Christian decides to go to the viscount’s country estate. He discovers that his brother has a marriage contract with a neighbor, Lady Rebecca. The girl has been steadfastly waiting for his return.
Will Christian be found out? Will Lady Rebecca notice the difference between the brothers? Who else might know who could topple this house of cards that Christian has created for himself?
I’ve read a lot of Regency Romance, but this particular spin on the imposter trope feels refreshingly new. Christian is a decent and sensitive gentleman–though he isn’t of that class, bastard son of a viscount and a maid–quite unlike his brother, who was never gentlemanlike while he was the one who was born to that privilege. Throughout most of the book, Christian doubts what he is doing and getting himself into, quite often thinking that he should give up the ruse. But he realizes that he can do good in a way that his brother would never have. He wants a home and security; this is what motivates him initially to assume his brother’s life. But soon he realizes that his actions will have an impact on others like his tenants and ultimately Lady Rebecca. Lady Rebecca, for her part, is a kind and intelligent woman who has been treated poorly by her own father, him seeming to only care about her as far as the marriage that she could make and the grandson that she could bear. Both Christian’s brother and her father have treated her so shabbily over the years that there is fertile ground for her to accept this changed this version of her former betrothed; he is now a man she can imagine making a good life with. I loved how Christian handled some of the ghosts of his brothers past, including Lady Rebecca and beyond. He is a good man and a perfect hero.
My only complaint about the book is that the story and the plot were bigger than the space given to it in this novella form. With the grand imposter story, so much could have been explored. For instance, at the very beginning of the book, I thought the London part felt rushed. I think it would have been wonderful to explore the time he spent in London before he saw Uncle Theo, a time which could have shown how he was struggling with his choices and what he needed to do next. Instead, this was just glossed over in a few lines. I would have liked to have seen, too, more of a development of the relationship between Christian and Lady Rebecca. They’re both awesome characters and have great chemistry, and I would have loved to have seen what was only hinted about or told actually shown in scenes and dialogue of their interactions. Some of it, too, was just too easy, like the author had to take shortcuts because of the novella-length constraints. I would have liked to have seen Christian’s mental struggle more, both in London and in the country. When he first met Lady Rebecca, after one meeting, he is already considering marrying her, and that seems rather too quick. These are great characters, and I would have loved to have seen their story developed more.
That said, this is an excellent story with characters you can’t help but empathize for as they are good people put in difficult circumstances. If you enjoy a Regency that’s a little bit different, you might enjoy the story.