Narrated By: NA
Original Publication Year: 2012
Genre(s): YA, Historical, Romance
I can’t remember where I heard of this book but one of the things that drew me in is this promotional blurb on the front cover: “Fans of I Capture the Castle will love this delicious confection” – Polly Shulman, author of Enthusiasm. I very much liked [b:I Capture the Castle|31122|I Capture the Castle|Dodie Smith|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1312011462s/31122.jpg|950769]by Dodie Smith and if this is indeed the book that Ms. Shulman is referring to, I’m not sure she actually read anything beyond the jacket description of Keeping the Castle. I Capture the Castle is a coming of age tale set sometime in the 1930’s told in journal format and having a lovely but rather melancholic ending. My reading comprehension may not be the greatest but the only things Keeping the Castle has in common is that it has the word ‘castle’ in the title and does feature a rather worn castle. So my first advice is do not let comparisons to I Capture the Castle draw you in – I think you will be disappointed.
In essence this book is a regency romance for the teen set. Althea is a young woman ready to martyr herself for her family and marry the first wealthy suitor that comes along in order to save said castle. Thankfully she’s very beautiful so she shouldn’t have any problems snaring someone that will do. Unfortunately nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems and complications ensue. But because Althea is a good girl who was willing to sacrifice her happiness for others she ends up making an unexpected love match with a fellow who also happens to be filthy rich. And yes, I just spoiled the ending but if you have read any regency-era romance you will see most of what happens in the book coming from a mile away.
First the good stuff. It’s a quick read and wasn’t offensive in any way. Indeed I think it might be an okay introduction to Regency Romance for a teenager if Austen or Georgette Heyer were a little daunting. It kept me curious enough about how the central couple would end up coming together that it drew me along to the end.
However it was pretty clear from the beginning that this wasn’t going to be a favorite. The initial clue was that I spent much of the first half of the book wondering why their poverty keeps them from feeding themselves but allows them to have horse, carriage and many servants. They have: a groom, cook, cook’s boy, butler, lady’s maid, house maid. And yet Althea must make all the pastries herself because the cook doesn’t know how (but Althea does?? How? Where did she learn and why can’t the cook learn?) and they must catch minnows out of the moat to serve guests at tea. What’s truly odd is that there are two awful stepsisters that live in the house that we are told are wealthy but who won’t share any of their money except on things for their comfort. Well, one would expect not having to eat minnows would be something on which they might shell out some of their money. In reality none of this matters, but the fact that I was obsessing and puzzling about it as I read suggest that I was not as engaged as I should have been.
My second major complaint was the male love interest. It is clear that he is meant to be the unconventional hero. We’re meant to see that though Althea thinks he’s rude and disrespectful it’s really just that he’s more honest and forthright (a true “man of honor”) than the ridiculous social conventions of the time allowed. The problem is, in reality he really is just rude, disrespectful and thoughtless regardless of time period and laxity of social conventions, so while he is not hateful I never really warmed up to him. The development of feelings between Althea and he happen mostly because the author tells us they do and not out of any natural or organic connecting of the characters.
In the end, it was okay. If you want to introduce regency romance to a teen girl, I think Austen or Georgette Heyer are the way to go but this might work in a pinch.