The Literature Hub
Reviewed by Ashleigh
Author: Tasha Alexander
Publisher & Pages: HarperCollins, 310 pages
Emily agreed to wed Philip, the Viscount Ashton, primarily to escape her overbearing mother. Philip’s death while on safari soon after their wedding left Emily feeling little grief, for she barely knew the dashing stranger.
But her discovery of his journals nearly two years later reveals a far different man than she imagined – a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who apparently loved his new wife deeply. Emily’s desire to learn more of her late husband leads her through the quiet corners of the British Museum and into a dangerous mystery involving rare stolen artifacts. To complicate matters, she’s juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond matrimony into darker realms…
Highlight: A wonderful debut novel.
Caution: Lady Emily can be unlikable at some times.
Highlight: A great social commentary on certain parts of Victorian England.
Caution: There were a few instances of “cheating the narrative.”
And Only to Deceive is the debut novel of Tasha Alexander. Set in Victorian England, the story began as a response to a comment made in Harper’s Bazaar on April 17, 1886.
“A heartless wife who, instead of being grieved at the death of her husband, is rejoiced at it, should be taught that society will not respect her unless she pays to the memory of the man whose name she bears that ‘homage which vice pays to virtue,’ a commendable respect to the usages of society in the matter of mourning and retirement from the world.”
The fact that And Only to Deceive began as a response to this comment highlights how not only is it historical fiction because of where the tale is set, it is also literary fiction. Tasha Alexander is making a comment on the ridiculous standards and rules that society dictates a widow must live by. In fact, she make a direct response to this through one of the characters, Lord Bromley, who is the father of our main character. He states “I don’t like to be unpleasant, but it is insupportable to me that she should have to be in mourning longer than she knew Ashton [Emily’s deceased husband].”
Don’t let the fact that it borders on being literary fiction put you off reading this though. This novel is like stepping back through time. Lady Emily Ashton (nee Bromley) is generally a likable and accurate representation of being a lady in Victorian England. She grew up constrained to the appropriate teachings of what a lady should know, such as how to manage a household, proper etiquette, and so forth. With no real education, Lady Emily grows up knowing that her only purpose in life is to get married and produce heirs for her husband. However, a year and a half after her husband’s death, Emily finds herself able to pursue an education. She has no husband to control her, and despite her mother’s best attempts, Emily is no longer under her mother’s thumb, so to speak. Overall, this was an enjoyable, almost coming-of-age tale. As Emily discovered who she was, she uncovered a mystery surrounding her husband’s death. Not only was she finding herself as a scholar, she was uncovering the last few years of her husband’s life.
As much as I loved this book, I did find that Emily was at times very unlikable. She began to fall in love with her husband after his death and took it upon herself to read her journals. Her husband, Philip, was very in love with her and even bestowed upon her a new name, Kallista, meaning beautiful or fair. It is to be expected, that after reading all of these observations about her beauty and grace, that Emily begins to think of herself as beautiful and important. Unfortunately, she grows a big head (not literally), thinking of herself as more important than she actually is. She is faced with two suitors, both who tell her how beautiful and smart she is, as well as a deceased husband who thought she was the best person ever. I was quite capable of forgiving this fact throughout most of the book, but in the very last chapter, Emily is faced with one of the suitors becoming more serious. He tells her that he loves her and wants to marry her, but will settle for courting her instead if she will let him as he knows Emily is greatly opposed to marriage. He asks her for one promise, “Promise that you will not be too hard on me. I've no goddesses lined up to help me convince you.” Emily’s response is to kiss him before arrogantly saying she will make no promises.
I definitely recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction. It was an enjoyable read and it wasn't too heavy on the historical details. At times I grew bored with all the poetry quoted form The Iliad and skipped past it, but the characters and the plot were enough to keep me interested in this story. I probably haven’t done this book justice with my review, but I have to say that it is a wonderful debut novel, and I would like to read the next book in the series, called A Poisoned Season. Indeed, I want to read the whole entire series, if only my budget would allow me to buy the books.
Star Rating: 3 ½ stars
Available in: Hardback, Paperback and eBook from Amazon.com