My False Heart, by Liz Carlyle

>> Thursday, June 17, 2004

My False Heart (excerpt) was my very first Liz Carlyle and it remains my favourite to this day.

When the dissolute Marquis of Rannoch pursues a spiteful mistress into the wilds of Essex, he is surprised to find himself hopelessly lost—in more ways than one. Drawn to a warmly lit house along a country lane, he is mistaken for an overdue guest, and dares not reveal his identity, lest they throw him back into the rain, a fate he admittedly deserves.

Evangeline van Artevalde is an artist of exceptional talent and extraordinary secrets. Isolated from society by choice, the beautiful Flemish refugee has fled her homeland in search of a secure haven for the children in her family. Essex seems a perfectly safe place to hide, until one rainy night when a dark stranger enters her home, her life, and eventually, her heart...
I've probably reread this one 3 or 4 times, and it's still an A-.

I really love everything about it, but what I fell in love with for starters was the writing style. Yep, I've said it before. Lush, sumptuous, etc. Carlyle can paint a picture with words that is 1.000 times richer than that of most authors. I felt the cold during Elliott's first ride to Chatham, and the warmth when he went into the house and I really saw Evie's paintings. I don't know if Carlyle's portrayal of the 19th century is accurate, but it feels very real. This style I like so much often entails a pace that is quite leisurely. I suppose it might feel "slow" to some people, but well, I'm not a big fan of fast, action-packed books in the first place, so, slow or not, it felt perfect to me.

I enjoyed the fact that the story was mostly character driven, as was all the conflict between Elliott and Evie. As for the characters themselves, I found them really likeable. Evie was sensible and no-nonesense, a strong and independent character. And Elliott I loved. This is a guy with a frightening, well-earned reputation for being a really mean son of a bitch. And yet his desperate need for what he sees at Chatham, the family and love and warmth rings true. What I like is that he was already dissatisfied with his life and, on a level, even before he met Evie and her family, he knew exactly what it was he really needed. He'd done his best to drown the needs of the young, naive boy he'd been, but he'd never been wholly successful. The only reason he'd become such a reprobate was the betrayal he suffered as a youth.

So, I was really rooting for him, and with him, I was dreading the moment when Evie and the rest of her households would discover his true identity and inevitably reject her. This was one romance which provoked its share of gut-wrenching moment, probably because of the single-minded desperation with which Elliott needed Evie.

I also loved to see the way mean Elliott slowly changed into a kinder version of himself. With his man of business, with his daughter, with his servants. It was lovely.

The book had a couple of little flaws though, and the foremost of them was the suspense subplot. Basically, it was completely unnecessary and only served to clutter up the book a bit and to add an unneeded bit of melodrama in the end, and to overshadow the romance there. It's always disappointing when a book that had previously been wholly character driven lets an extraneous suspense subplot overwhelm it in the ending. I would have scrapped it, no doubt about it. At 450 pages, the story could have withstood it easily.

The other flaw was that there were certain elements which felt like loose threads. Carlyle had set up certain elements in a way that made it seem like they were going to be dealt with in the story, but they weren't. They were simply dropped. Not left open-ended, which would have been ok, but dropped. I can't describe what the difference is, but I know it when I see it. I'm talking about things like the situation between Winnie and Etienne, which sounded really fascinating.

Still, these were pretty small flaws, and didn't prevent me from loving the book.

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