Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥♥
EJ writes truly classical stories. The language and characterization are superb and you feel like you're wandering around in a lovely watercolor rendering of an English country estate. But never fear Skeptics! It's not all rainbows and lawn tennis.
There is a wicked scene between the H&h in a goat pasture than managed to be nice and lusty - making me forget, for a few moments, how terribly odorific and ill-tempered goats are. Now that was good writing.
She: Clever-tongued, high-born heiress Lady Henrietta Maclellan doesn't join the running to find and marry a rich gentleman because she is born with a weak hip that makes it impossible for her to have children. Even with her pots of money, what gentleman would want her with this terrible "disfigurement"?
He: Simon Darby suddenly stands to lose his inheritance to his deceased uncle's newly born heir. He travels to the countryside to see that his uncle's scandalous young wife has really given him a legitimate heir. Unfortunately for Simon, the baby is legitimate and that means Simon's out a juicy inheritance.
Conflict: She has always felt that she could not marry because she would not be able to produce an heir - something that a husband would, no doubt, desire. The H insists that he doesn't really give a fig about children and producing an heir, and that her inability to have children is of no consequence to him. She takes some convincing but manages to come around, comforting herself that she would be able to bring something to the marriage because at least her dowry can replace Simon's inheritance now that he has lost it to his aunt's newborn son.
There is also a sweet little side-story of the scandalous aunt and her love affair with another gentleman, but that's fleshed out in another book and I'll leave it for another post.
The story deals with some difficult topics such as the state of women's healthcare and the reality of the incredibly patriarchal inheritance laws of the time. EJ doesn't make these political, of course, it was just the way things were those days.
One point about the ending that will be a spoiler (but not really - we all know that everything has to work out in the end, right?) - I was a little sorry to see that even though the H & h truly do love one another, the HEA "package" still included the miraculous "fixing" of Henrietta's hip so she can have children. Seems to say that the HEA wouldn't have been complete without the possibility of progeny. Which I absolutely do NOT agree with and think is an annoying suggestion. But I read this when I was a lot younger and wasn't as quick to get offended about these types of things!
The fact remains that this is a fantastic read and one of my very favorites.