ONCE UPON A TOWER – Eloisa James
Avon Books
ISBN: 978-0-060222387-6 - Print
978-0-060222388-3 – eBook
June 2013
Historical Romance

England and Scotland, 1824

Gowan Stoughton, Duke of Kinross of Craigievar and Chief of Clan MacAuley, is one of (if not the) richest, most powerful men in Scotland. Deserted by his mother at a young age and, not long afterward, inheriting the title and estates from his debauched and alcoholic father, Kinross takes his duties seriously. Sober and industrious, his days are organized in the extreme; he receives daily reports about all his responsibilities, even here in London. He and the Earl of Gilchrist often deal together with banking business for their respective countries. One day he accepts an invitation to a ball from the earl. In the back of his mind, he considers looking for a wife among the English aristocracy. Little does this cool, logical man know he is about to fall in love.

The ball marks the debut of the Gilchrist's daughter (and only child), Lady Edith. She is a dutiful if independent young woman whose first love is her cello; she's a magnificent musician. Normally lively, Edie suffers this night from a high fever. Kinross is struck by her ethereal loveliness and calm demeanor as they share silent dances. The next day he meets with her father and an engagement is contracted. Edie barely recalls the man, but she's always known she would marry as her father directs. At first a six-month betrothal is planned, but except for a quick trip to Brighton by Kinross and an exchange of letters, it's only a matter of days before they are wed and the ducal entourage sets off for Scotland. Kinross always gets what he wants.

Edie expects they will get to know each other on the long journey, but it doesn't work out that way. Instead, they are never alone. Kinross receives reports and gives orders the whole time while she sits with nothing to do but watch the passing scenery. Lunch and dinner stops are the same. When they are finally alone and the consummation due, things do not go very well. It seems Kinross is as innocent as Lady Edith. Both his spirit and flesh are eager, but there is a problem . . .

Things are not much better in Scotland where the castle staff numbers over 100, and this is only one of the duke's properties. Edie is expected to manage the castle and mother her husband's five or six year-old half sister, child of his recently deceased mother, who may or may not have remarried. None of Edie's unusual upbringing has prepared her for any of this.

Edie loves her father—they share a passion for making music—but he is rather strict and repressing. He was widowed and remarried a younger lady. Theirs was a love match that Edie resented, but she finally came to love her stepmother, Layla. Yet the earl and countess's marriage is also in trouble, though in a different way. What do they always say, communication is the key? But what if that is very difficult?

In Ms. James's latest edition to her fairy tale inspired novels, she also credits the Bard of Avon for inspiration. (When not writing romance or enjoying Paris with her family, Ms. James is a Shakespeare professor. See a review of her recently released memoir, PARIS IN LOVE, in RRT's April reviews.)

Gowan and Edie have a long road to the happy-ever-after marriage. One of their stumbling blocks is an intimate problem I've never come across in novels, but one handled with compassion and understanding. Written with wit and an understanding of human emotions, ONCE UPON A TOWER is riveting reading. Highly recommended.

Jane Bowers