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Menfreya in the Morning by Victoria Holt
Harriet Delaney is an unwanted child. Her mother died giving birth to her and her father, a Member of Parliament, has never stopped blaming Harriet. She is not a pretty child and walks with a limp, so the only thing that may get her a husband is her status as an heiress. Her father's constituency is in Cornwall, and while living there, Harriet is enchanted by the neighbouring castle of the Menfrey family, Menfreya. She befriends the daughter of the house, who is of her age, and secretly hopes the older brother, Bevil, might fall in love with her so she can become a Menfrey herself. The Menfreys have rather a reputation: they're charming people but can be ruthless as well. Menfreya is an old castle with turrets, buttresses and machicolated towers, a lot of history and above all: secrets.

The story is set up carefully and told in Victoria Holt's inimitably captivating way. There's never a dull moment. Harriet is like a real person telling you about her childhood as a sullen and angry little girl, feeling unloved because she's plain and retaliating by cultivating a sharp tongue. We suffer with her when she needs to have her London season together with two very pretty cousins but enjoy her small barbs and ultimately her victory when she finds herself a husband before them. Then, after her marriage, we understand why she becomes jealous when she notices her husband's roving eye. Does he really love her? Can she trust him?

A few times I felt Harriet measured by double standards. It seems her love was mostly for Menfreya and if Bevil hadn't been living there, she wouldn't even have noticed him. She only started to know Bevil after they became engaged. Then suddenly the girl who had nothing and who was resigned to the fate that nobody would love her for herself, wanted all: Not only the beautiful castle, but also its master and its master's undivided love. So what if Bevil had married her for her money? She married him for Menfreya. Her fortune would be used for Menfreya, her first love.

I remember reading somewhere of readers complaining that Victoria Holt had a hero violating the heroine in one (or more?) of her books and I wonder if perhaps this story was one of them. After a disagreement, where Bevil for some reason refuses to be honest about his true behavior and Harriet thinks the worst of him and decides to sleep in the dressing room, he indeed handles her very roughly. Later, however, Harriet tells us "He knew this for although I had deeply resented the affront to my dignity by his display of force, my passionate need of him had betrayed me.", so perhaps it wasn't as bad as it seemed.

The book was an excellent read which deserves an 8 out of 10.
Smile one of victoria holt's better ones. great suspense. is what a gothic book should be!!! 9 out of 10
I need to check this one out, it's not in my collection

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