I think I read somewhere that Barely a Lady
is Eileen Dreyer’s debut novel. Or was that just debut historical
novel? Either way, it’s a remarkable achievement. Barely a Lady
is a rich, complex novel with excellent depth, rich characterisations and a compelling plot. I’ve found another author to glom!
The blurb does a good enough job of summarising the book, so I will take the liberty of repeating it here:
“Olivia Grace has secrets that could destroy her. One of the greatest of these is the Earl of Gracechurch, who married and divorced her five years earlier. Abandoned and disgraced, Grace has survived those years at the edge of respectability. Then she stumbles over Jack on the battlefield of Waterloo, and he becomes an even more dangerous secret. For not only is he unconscious, he is clad in an enemy uniform.
But worse, when Jack finally wakes in Olivia's care, he can't remember how he came to be on a battlefield in Belgium. In fact, he can remember nothing of the last five years. He thinks he and Olivia are still blissfully together. To keep him from being hanged for a traitor, Olivia must pretend she and Jack are still married.
To unearth the real traitors, Olivia and Jack must unravel the truth hidden within his faulty memory. To save themselves and the friends who have given them sanctuary, they must stand against their enemies, even as they both keep their secrets.
In the end, can they risk everything to help Jack recover his lost memories, even though the truth may destroy them both?”
But this is just the bones of the story. The rest you must discover yourself, as the author slowly reveals pieces of the puzzle and tantalises you with the mystery. For those of you rolling your eyes at the amnesia trope, it’s all in the skill of the writer. Dreyer lends appropriate gravitas to the story and really makes it work.
I was really impressed by the author’s vivid prose. The battlefield was depicted extraordinarily well to the point where the destruction and despair of the aftermath nearly leaks from the page. I could almost smell the smoking ruins and hear the moans of the wounded. This level of talent is apparent throughout the novel.
All the characters were fully realised and the scenes were rendered so well that you could almost visualise yourself right there with them. On reflection, it was really quite impressive – although you probably won’t notice it at the time because you’ll be too caught up in the story. The emotion doesn’t let the story down either. It is equally as strong.
I saw small shades of Sherry Thomas in Eileen Dreyer’s writing, in the evocative prose and the way that she slowly revealed the mystery and still managed to surprise. That’s pretty high praise for me. I can’t wait to see what else she comes up with.