Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Keeping the Castle

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
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's review
Jul 21, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-romance, ya, 2012, cover-love
Read in June, 2012 — I own a copy

Althea Crawley is on a mission, a mission to marry money. It is the only thing that will save her family from ruin and save Crawley Castle - or "Crooked Castle" as it's affectionately dubbed - from falling into its own kind of ruin. Whimsically and stupidly built at the edge of a cliff above the North Sea by Althea's great-grandfather, it is impractical, draughty, cold, leaky, uncomfortable and downright ridiculous; but it is her little brother's inheritance and the only thing left to the family aside from a few little tenanted farms.

And Althea has the looks to succeed at her plan, too. Noted as the most beautiful woman in Yorkshire, at seventeen years old she has no competition. The only trouble is that she has a tendency to say the wrong thing, and speak her thoughts out loud, which does tend to scare off the young men asking for her hand.

And time is running out for Crooked Castle. Mould grows on the damp walls, there are some serious leaks in the roof, and they have barely enough to eat. It doesn't help that, in an attempt to revive their fortunes after the death of Althea's father, her mother remarried a man of means who, already ill on their wedding day, died not long after and left everything to his two mature, unmarried daughters, Prudence and Charity: now Prudence and Charity live at Crooked Castle, adding to the burden but rarely ever contributing to the castle's upkeep or the food in the larder. On occasion, Althea resorts to clever subterfuge to get them to loosen their purse-strings, but considering how insufferable the sisters are about giving up any of their fortune, it's rarely worth the effort.

But there's a bright light on the horizon, in the form of a new neighbour. Lord Boring has recently inherited his title from his old uncle who lived alone at nearby Gudgeon Park, which had fallen into a state of unloved grubbiness, and moved in with his mother and his aunt, a woman who had married a tradesman out of love. He comes with a party of other well-to-do people, as well as his cousin, Mr Fredericks.

Althea sets out at once to win Lord Boring, but so does her cousin Charity - though surely Lord Boring is too refined in his taste to fall for her! Her goal is further confounded by the presence of Mr Fredericks, who between damaging parts of Crawley Castle as he inspected it with a disparaging eye, and being all too free with his often cynical opinions, Althea feels herself becoming quite vexed with the man. Add to that the arrival of a rich young woman, Miss Vincy, whose parents are determined to marry her to Lord Boring, and Althea feels the need to concoct a new plan: marry Miss Vincy to Mr Fredericks, and then the field will be clear for her and Lord Boring! If only Althea could see things as clearly as she speaks them!

This was a very fun, light-hearted quick little novel, very much inspired by both Pride and Prejudice and, perhaps even more so, Emma. In fact, Althea is quite the Emma. It's not really a "regency romance", not in the Harlequin sense at least; it is romance in the Jane Austen sense: two people, plus supporting cast, who should be together, readers can see that they'll end up together, but they take their time figuring that out and have plenty of misunderstandings along the way. It's worked before and it works here, although it has a by-the-numbers feel to it at times. I would have liked it even more if it had been set a bit later than the Regency period; at first I thought it was early Victorian, and with the dilapidated castle as a backdrop, perched precariously at the edge of a cliff, the added atmosphere would have gone down really well.

Althea was a lively, intelligent but strangely unperceptive heroine (all the "plot twists" are readily apparent to us readers; I doubt they're meant as real twists, with such hefty clues left lying around). She's very much like Emma. What quickly becomes apparent to us readers she doesn't figure out for ages. That made her a bit frustrating, though there's nothing inherently contradictory about an intelligent but unperceptive person. She's well meaning, and I've never liked well meaning people: they tend to do more harm than good, and their good intentions tend to have selfish origins, plus being well meaning is a non-excuse for meddling and upsetting others. I always hate it when, after someone is hurt by someone else, you are told "Yes but she means well." As if that should excuse it. All "well meaning" people need a Mr Knightley to come along and hold a mirror up now and again.

In Keeping the Castle, such a role should go to Mr Fredericks, but he's his own character and doesn't meddle in anything. I loved Mr Fredericks (I've forgotten his first name just now), he's so blunt and honest and outspoken, and gets away with it in that way men could when women couldn't. Watching him criticise the castle on his first tour, damaging everything he touches, was funny but I also felt for Althea, felt protective of the castle and in that instant wanted what she wanted: to save it.

Keeping the Castle is a comic, character-driven story, wherein the characters may be familiar and ones you've read before in some form, but are given fresh life here. Between the small adventures, misadventures, buffoon-like characters and lively banter between Althea and Mr Fredericks, it's highly entertaining. I would have loved it to be a bit longer, a bit more in-depth, and to spend a bit more time building tension and chemistry between Althea and Mr Fredericks, but that's not to say it doesn't have that: again, it's more Austen-esque, but even P&P had an incredible, slow-burning sexual anticipation that really made the story simmer with tension.

If you're looking for a quick, funny read, especially in the summer, definitely pick up Keeping the Castle. It might not have a deep, lasting impression on you, but like the best kind of cake, it's very enjoyable while it lasts.
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