A Marchioness Below Stairs by Alissa Baxter
Isabel is the marchioness of the title, a young, beautiful, wealthy widow who survived an elderly husband and is now free to make her own decisions in life. Marriage is the last thing she wants, as by law her freedom would then be given over to her husband. However, everyone else in the book seems to think she can’t do without a husband, including her own mother, and they all seem quite determined to see her settled with Marcus Bateman, her uncle’s business partner and a very wealthy man indeed.
I always have a bit of an issue with a book where ‘everyone’ but the heroine can see that the couple are just perfect for each other. It smacks of gaslighting, and indeed everyone seems to be determined to convince Isabel that what she THINKS she wants isn’t really what she wants at all.
While this book contains lots of interesting historical facts about slavery and the pushback against it within certain segments of the educated upper class, it comes across as heavy-handed at times in the righteousness of the heroine’s beliefs. Isabel was ‘sold’ to a wealthy elderly husband instead of being allowed to marry the man she loves, and to her credit, she refuses to allow anyone to compare her plight to that of slaves. While Bateman appears to be playing both sides, working with Isabel’s abolitionist uncle and befriending a notorious plantation owner and former slave trader, Isabel is quite right to distrust him… but everyone still tries to push them together anyway.
I was really rather surprised that Marcus was her only eligible suitor - the villain of the piece doesn’t really count. Considering Isabel’s youth, beauty, wealth and social position, she should have been positively swarmed by suitors, titled and otherwise, to choose from.
My favourite parts of the book were when Isabel and Marcus were working together in an effort to keep everyone fed, and I was disappointed that section didn’t last long, because I felt it was the one time they truly ‘clicked’ as a couple. The cookery sections were intriguing and well-researched, and I’d have enjoyed seeing more of them.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed this book but didn’t love it. Four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.